Get The Facts

Costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year — far more than life in prison

  • Because of the risk of executing an innocent person, the courts and state law require additional safeguards that are very costly.

  • State and local governments must commit extra resources to investigation, case preparation, jury selection, trial, sentencing, and appellate review.

  • This diverts police and prosecutor resources from the investigation and prosecution of other crimes.

  • A rigorous study by Seattle University criminologists found the average total costs to the justice system related to pursuit of the death penalty were over $1 million more per case than in similar cases when the death penalty was not sought.

  • Two King County death penalty cases have cost nearly $12 million in investigation and preparation—before the start of trial, sentencing, and mandatory appeals. i

Does not provide swift and certain justice

  • Murder victims' families and the public need justice to be swift and sure. The death penalty delivers neither.

  • Capital cases take far longer than cases where the death penalty is not sought. As a result, victim family members must endure an average of about 20 years of trials, appeals and retrials.

  • Death penalties are often overturned. Since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1981, nearly 80% of death sentences in Washington state have been overturned. ii

Does not deter crime

  • Scientific studies repeatedly demonstrate that capital punishment does not deter people from committing crimes more than long sentences, and law enforcement shares this consensus.

  • FBI crime rates also show that states with the death penalty generally do not have lower murder rates.

  • Replacing the death penalty with life without parole would allow Washington to redirect resources to proven crime-reduction strategies and to the needs of victims’ families.

Is applied unequally

  • A man who murdered one woman was put to death, while another man who was convicted of murdering 49 women—and confessed to killing many more—received a life sentence.

  • Many Washington counties cannot afford to seek the death penalty, so where a crime occurred unfairly influences whether or not the death penalty is sought. A Clallam County administrator acknowledged, "If we had a death penalty case, and had to pay $1 million (in legal costs), we'd go bankrupt." iii

  • The rate at which counties seek the death penalty varies widely. Among counties with five or more aggravated murder cases since 1981, the death penalty was sought at a rate ranging from a high of 67% in Thurston County to a low of 0% in Okanogan and Yakima Counties.iv

  • Whether or not someone receives a death sentence often depends on their income level and racev. . A system that produces such unequal results should not be used to determine who lives and who dies.