State Supreme Court
A defendant sentenced to death has the right to present two separate kinds of appeal to the state Supreme Court.
In a "direct appeal," the defendant can present any legal issue raised during the trial, as well as certain new constitutional claims that were not raised at trial. Such claims might include challenges to the trial court's exclusion of evidence or jury instructions, or objection to arrest and search procedures.
In a "collateral challenge," most commonly filed in the form of a personal restraint petition, the defendant can raise claims that were not addressed in a direct appeal. Claims might include allegations that a witness committed perjury, that the state withheld evidence tending to show that the defendant was innocent of the crime, or that the defendant had ineffective assistance of counsel. In a collateral challenge, the burden is on the petitioner to prove that the actions caused actual and substantial prejudice to the defendant's case.
A case in which the defendant has prevailed on direct appeal or on a collateral challenge may be returned to the trial court for further proceedings. This may include a new sentencing proceeding or an entirely new trial. A defendant who does not prevail in the state Supreme Court may ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider any claims pertaining to the U.S. Constitution.
Federal Court: U.S. District Court and the Court of Appeals
A defendant who loses a direct appeal or collateral challenge in state court may file a federal habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court located in the district in which the crime occurred.
In order to raise a constitutional claim in a habeas corpus petition the defendant must have previously presented the claim to the Washington Supreme Court. In addition, under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act passed by Congress in 1996, the federal court can only find for the defendant on a habeas corpus claim where the state court's decision was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, a previous
U.S. Supreme Court decision on the same issue.
A defendant who loses a habeas corpus claim in U.S. District Court can seek permission to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals. If permission is granted, the District Court's decision is reviewed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The non-prevailing party in a case heard by the 9th Circuit may seek further review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The last-minute filing of a habeas corpus petition does not, in and of itself, prevent a scheduled execution from taking place. In order to stop a pending execution, a court must consider the petition and issue a stay of execution. Stays are intended to allow sufficient time for the court to consider the issues raised in the petition.