Washington

General Information

Death Penalty: Yes
Date of Reinstatement (following Furman v. Georgia): November 4, 1975
Location of Death Row/Executions: Washington State Penitentiary

Capital: Olympia
Population: 6,724,540
Governor: Jay Inslee
Legislative Information: Senate


House of representatives

LATEST NEWS AND DEVELOPMENTS IN WASHINGTON
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Death Sentences 1994-2012

DPIC's State Database for information on executions,
death row population and other statistics in Washington

History of the Death Penalty
Resources

Mt. Rainier.  Photo by Kelvin Kay.


History of the Death Penalty

Notable cases

In March 2004, both houses of the Washington state legislature passed resolutions stating that Chief Leschi was wrongly convicted and executed in Washington territory in 1858 and asked the state supreme court to vacate Leschi's conviction. The court's chief justice, however, said that this was unlikely to happen, since it was not at all clear that the state court had jurisdiction in a matter decided 146 years earlier in a territorial court. On December 10, 2004, Chief Leschi was exonerated by a unanimous vote by a Historical Court of Inquiry following a trial in absentia.

Notable Exonerations

On March 2, 1994, U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan overturned Benjamin Harris' conviction and vacated his sentence of death for the 1984 murder of Jimmy Turner on the basis that his original trial lawyer had been incompetent. Harris's attorney interviewed only 3 of the 32 witnesses listed in police reports and spent less than 2 hours consulting with Harris before trial. Harris's co-defendant was acquitted. Bryan ordered Harris released from custody if not brought to a speedy retrial. The decision was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on September 12, 1995. The prosecution decided not to retry Harris but tried to have him confined as insane. (They had previously argued that he was competent to stand trial.) On July 16, 1997, a jury decided that Harris should not be imprisoned at Western State Hospital. Harris maintains his innocence and says he was framed.

Milestones in abolition/reinstatement

Washington abolished the death penalty in 1913, but reinstated it in 1919. The statute remained unchanged until 1975, when it was again abolished. A referendum in the same year reinstated it for a second time as the mandatory penalty for aggravated murder in the first degree. U.S. Supreme Court rulings in Woodson v. North Carolina and Roberts v. Louisiana invalidated laws that mandated death sentences and the statute was modified to give detailed procedures for imposing the death penalty.

This new law was itself found unconstitutional by the Washington Supreme Court, as a person who had pled not guilty could be sentenced to death, while someone who pled guilty would receive a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole. The current law was passed in 1981 to correct these constitutional defects.

Other interesting facts

Washington is the only state with an active gallows. Inmates in Washington are able to choose if their execution will be carried out by lethal injection or hanging. If the inmate makes no decision, the default method is lethal injection.

On September 10, 2010 Washington became the second state, after Ohio, to use a single dose injection of sodium thiopental as opposed to the typical three drug protocol used in most other jurisdictions.


 Resources

Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

Department of Corrections

Prosecutors

Public defender's office

Victims' services

 



 


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