A total of 110 executions have been carried out in Washington and its predecessor territories since 1849. All but three were by hanging.
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 the same year reinstated it for a second time. Subsequent U.S. Supreme Court rulings 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, because a person who pled not guilty could be sentenced to death, while someone who pled guilty would receive a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The current law was passed in 1981 to correct these constitutional defects. Since 1981, five executions have occurred in Washington. There are currently 8 persons on the state’s death row.
Since 1996, death row inmates have been 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. However, Washington remains the only state with an active gallows. (Delaware dismantled theirs in 2003.)