Orrick Helps Strike Down Death Penalty in Washington State, Alongside ACLU


An Orrick team, led by partner John Wolfe, helped secure a unanimous decision from the Washington Supreme Court declaring the state’s death penalty unconstitutional. In its opinion, the Court held that the death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner. Citing a study commissioned for the case, the Court found that black defendants in Washington are four and a half times more likely to receive a death sentence than white defendants, concluding that “the association between race and the death penalty is not attributed to random chance.”

The Orrick team partnered with the ACLU in State v. Gregory to submit two amicus briefs on behalf of 75 former state court judges as well as provide critical strategic support to the lawyers representing the appellant and develop the analytical framework subsequently relied upon during oral argument. Complementing the appellant’s brief, the Orrick team’s amicus briefs argued for complete abolition of the death penalty due to racial disparities, as well as the absence of meaningful proportionality review.

In what The New York Times has called a “scathing State Supreme Court decision,” the Court agreed with our team’s arguments, further finding that the death penalty “fails to serve any legitimate penological goals.” The Court converted the sentences of eight men on death row to life imprisonment. This decision is “the latest in a string of states to abandon capital punishment in recent years,” The Washington Post reports. 

In addition to John, the team included partner Aravind Swaminathan, associates Marc Shapiro and Sam Harbourt, and former associates Alec Schierenbeck and David Keenan, who currently serves as a Washington State court judge.