Washington Criminal Law: An Overview

Washington state is fairly moderate in its crime rates compared to other states in the nation. It ranked 31st in the nation in 2014 with a violent crime rate of 2.85 percent per 100,000 people—well below the national average of 3.8 percent.

However, in 2016, Tukwila, Washington ranked as the number one most dangerous city in the nation with more than 10,000 residents. While its violent crime rate of 8.18 per 1,000 people didn't top the list, Tukwila's property crime rate of 165.75 per 1,000 people earned it its top position.

Washington Felonies and Misdemeanors

In Washington, crimes are classified as felonies, misdemeanors, and gross misdemeanors depending on their seriousness.

Felonies include the most serious crimes like murder, rape, and fraud. At a minimum, felonies are penalized with five years of imprisonment and a fine of $10,000. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes that are penalized with imprisonment of up to 90 days and a fine of $1,000.

Gross misdemeanors include crimes that aren't classified as felonies or misdemeanors. They are penalized with up to one year of imprisonment and no more than a $5,000 fine.

Capital Punishment in Washington

A felon who is charged with first-degree aggravated murder can receive the death penalty in Washington. Washington is the only state in the U.S. with an active gallows and allows convicted felons to choose their method of execution between hanging or lethal injection.

In 2014, Governor Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on executions during the extent of his stay in office. He expressed that his intention is not to commute capital punishment sentences to life imprisonment but to create deeper discussions on the ethics of the death penalty.

Washington DUI Laws

Washington, like every other state, has laws against impaired driving. Most people tend to associate driving under the influence (DUI) charges with drunk driving but DUIs also include impairment by any intoxicating substance like drugs and medications.

While a minimum safe level of drug or medication intoxication has not been established, Washington law enforcement will issue a DUI to any driver who, after taking a chemical test, registers at a 0.08 percent or higher blood-alcohol content (BAC) level. Drivers under 21 years of age will be issued a DUI if they register at a BAC level of 0.02 percent or higher.

Marijuana Crimes in Washington

Washington was one of the first states in the nation to decriminalize the consumption of marijuana. However, state laws still criminalize:

  • The possession of more than one ounce of marijuana
  • Public consumption
  • Marijuana cultivation
  • The sale and distribution of marijuana products (especially to minors aged 3 years and younger)
  • Advertising marijuana paraphernalia

Besides publicly consuming one ounce or less of marijuana, which only carries a civil penalty fine of $100, all other marijuana offenses are either misdemeanors or felonies that can impose up to a 10-year imprisonment term and a $20,000 fine.

Contact a Washington Criminal Defense Attorney

Anyone facing criminal charges in Washington has the right to mount a vigorous defense. A qualified Washington Criminal Defense Attorney familiar with local criminal procedures and laws can be a crucial advocate.

Make sure you talk with an attorney about your case and your needs before hiring one. Most criminal defense lawyers should be able to handle any misdemeanor or low-level crime. Not all attorneys are qualified to handle serious charges.

A qualified criminal defense attorney could mean the difference between going to jail and going free.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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