Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Capital Punishment

Under Washington's capital punishment statute, defendants in Washington state convicted of aggravated first-degree murder may be sentenced to life in prison without possiblity of parole or they may be sentenced to death. A defendent may be found guilty of aggravated first degree murder if he or she commits first degree murder with the following aggravating circumstances: 

(1) The murderer:

  • was serving a term of imprisonment, had escaped, or was on authorized or unauthorized leave in or from a state facility or program;
  • was in custody in a county or county-city jail for a felony;
  • committed the murder pursuant to an agreement that he or she would receive money or any other thing of value for committing the murder;
  • solicited another person to commit the murder and had paid or had agreed to pay money or any other thing of value for committing the murder;
  • committed the murder to obtain or maintain his or her membership or to advance his or her position in the hierarchy of an organization, association, or identifiable group;
  • committed the murder by shooting a firearm from a vehicle or near a vehicle that was used to transport the murderer or the firearm to the scene of the crime;
  • committed the murder to conceal the commission of a crime or to protect or conceal the identity of any person committing a crime, including, but specifically not limited to, any attempt to avoid prosecution as a persistent offender;
  • committed the murder while in the course of or while fleeing from one of the following crimes:
    •  Robbery in the first or second degree;
    • Rape in the first or second degree;
    • Burglary in the first or second degree or residential burglary;
    • Kidnapping in the first degree; or
    • Arson in the first degree;
  • committed multiple murders as part of a common scheme or single act;
  • committed the murder, knowing there was a court order, issued in this or any other state, prohibiting him or her from contact with the victim; or
  • committed the murder against a "family or household member" and had previously engaged in a pattern or practice of three or more of the following crimes committed upon the victim within a five-year period, regardless of whether a conviction resulted:

(2) The victim was:

  • a law enforcement officer, corrections officer, or firefighter who was performing his or her official duties at the time of the act resulting in death and murderer knew it; 
  • a judge; juror or former juror; prospective, current, or former witness in an adjudicative proceeding; prosecuting attorney; deputy prosecuting attorney; defense attorney; a member of the indeterminate sentence review board; or a probation or parole officer; and the murder was related to the exercise of official duties performed or to be performed by the victim; or
  • regularly employed or self-employed as a newsreporter and the murder was committed to obstruct or hinder the investigative, research, or reporting activities of the victim.

(see RCW 10.95.020)

Appeal and Review

When the ultimate penalty is imposed, a defendant has several options for appeal which are explained in greater detail on our "Appeal & Review" pages.

Reprieves, pardons and commutations in death penalty cases

Washington’s Constitution and several state statutes give the Governor significant powers over the fate of persons sentenced to death in the state. For more information, please visit the "Reprieves, Pardons and Commutations" page.

Role of the Attorney General's Office

The Office of Attorney General has two important responsibilities in criminal cases where the death penalty has been imposed. The first is to represent the State of Washington when a person under sentence of death has filed a habeas corpus petition with the federal courts. The second is to advise the Department of Corrections on issues related to execution procedure, such as the development of execution protocols, security and witness issues.

Methods of Execution

Washington utilizes two methods of execution: lethal injection and hanging. Lethal injection is used unless the inmate under sentence of death chooses hanging as the preferred execution method.

Additional Information

The Office of Attorney General publishes monthly capital punishment status reports. These reports, which can be accessed by clicking on the Case Status Report link to the right, provide current information about the legal cases of each offender currently on Washington's Death Row.

The Department of Corrections website provides more information on Capital Punishment, including:

Additional links at left  provide more detailed information about pending death penalty cases.