District of Columbia Capital Punishment Laws

Capital punishment, more commonly referred to as the "death penalty," is reserved for the most serious murder charges. The death penalty has a long and complex history in the United States and was strongly influenced by European criminal law. Even minor offenses such as shoplifting were punishable by death in some colonies prior to the nation's founding.

The issue of capital punishment can polarize people instantly, and it's been that way in this country for a long time. It is among the more divisive topics in our country with most national polls show close to an even split between those in favor of the death penalty and those who prefer life imprisonment.

District of Columbia Law and the Death Penalty

Each state makes its own laws concerning the sentence. Most states allow capital punishment, but the District of Columbia does not. The death penalty was nullified by the Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia in 1972 and repealed by the D.C. Council in 1981.

Federal Law

For most of its history, D.C. was governed by federal statutes. Although D.C. now has its own code of laws, it is still subject to Congressional oversight. The federal government has sought the death penalty in murder cases that occurred in D.C.

Can Federal Prosecutors Seek the Death Penalty in D.C.?

The decision to seek capital punishment in the nation’s capital, where residents have consistently voted against the death penalty in local cases, is rare but not unheard of because federal prosecutors are not bound by D.C. laws.

Learn more about the District of Columbia's capital punishment laws in the following table. See FindLaw's Death Penalty section for additional articles.

Code Section 22-2404
Is Capital Punishment Allowed? No
Clemency Process N/A
How is the Sentence Determined? N/A
Available for Crimes Other than Homicide? No
Method N/A
Is Life Without Parole an Option? Yes
Minimum Age N/A
Effect of Defendant's Incapacity N/A
Definition of Capital Homicide N/A

Note: Criminal charges, especially those that might carry the death penalty, are serious. Additionally, state capital punishment laws are constantly changing -- contact a District of Columbia criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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