Current Statistics re Use of Federal Death Penalty


September 29, 2021

Since 1988, the federal government has taken to trial a total of 208 federal death penalty cases involving 305 defendants in 239 trials.  These 305 defendants were culled from a larger pool of 539 (FN1) against whom the Attorney General had authorized the government to seek the death penalty.  Excluding 31 defendants who are awaiting or currently on trial on capital charges, 254 of the remaining 508 defendants avoided trial by negotiated plea, when the government  dropped its request for the death penalty without a plea agreement, dismissed charges entirely or the judge barred the death penalty.  Fourteen were found not guilty of the capital charge. Two others were declared innocent by the government.  Charges were dismissed against a third when grave questions were raised about his guilt.  There have been sixteen executions.  Three defendants died before trial.  Two were found incompetent after authorization.  Two death row inmates were granted clemency.  In cases where juries actually reached the point of choosing between life and death, they imposed 153 (64%) life sentences and 86 (36%) death sentences.  Of these 86 sentences of death, 4 defendants received a death sentence twice.  Three additional defendants received death verdicts, but new trials were granted before sentencing and life sentences resulted - one by jury, another by plea, a third by judge.  An additional defendant received a life sentence, and the government is seeking the death penalty upon retrial. The dispositions of these cases is summarized below:

Executed 16
Sentenced to death and now pending appeal (FN2) 11
Sentenced to death and now pending 2255 (FN3) 31
Died Before Execution 3
Clemency 2
Awaiting retrial or re-sentencing after reversal 3
Death sentence vacated and request for the death penalty withdrawn 8
Life sentences imposed by juries (153) or judges (3) (FN4) 156
Life sentence vacated and retrial pending 1
Acquittal 14
Capital charges dismissed before trial on grounds of actual innocence 3
Dismissal of death penalty by Judge after death notice filed (FN5) 28
Requestes for the death penalty withdrawn by the government before trial 69
Requests for the death penalty withdrawn at trial 12
Capital prosecution discontinued by government due to plea bargain before trial (FN6) 124
Capital prosecution discontinued by government due to plea bargain at trial (FN7) 23
Committed suicide/died 3
Lesser included conviction 3
Incompetent after authorization 2
Death Sentence Reversed - Intellectually Disabled 2
Awaiting or on trial on capital charges 26
TOTAL 540 (FN8)

Of the total of 539 (FN1) defendants against whom the Attorney General has authorized the government to request the death penalty, 148 have been white, or 28%, 99 Hispanic, or 18%, 29 Asian/Indian/Pacific Islander/Native American/Filipino/Middle Eastern, or 5% and 263 African-Americans, or 49%.  391 of the 539, or 73%, of the defendants approved for a capital prosecution by the Attorney Generals to date are members of minority groups.  Twenty-four of the forty-two defendants now on federal death row under active death sentences, or 57%, are non-white. Twenty-five, or 60%, of federal death row were convicted of killing whites.  Only 197, or 37% of the 539 (FN9) authorized killed whites.  103, or 19% of the 539 killed a white female. Fourteen of the forty-two defendants currently on death row, or 32%, killed a white female. Of the sixteen executions, nine (56%) were people of color, ten of sixteen (63%) defendants killed a white female and fifteen of sixteen (94%) defendants killed a female.


FN 1: There are three defendants who received a notice of intent from two different indictments: Fackrel (ED TX) has two separate indictments and crimes, both in the ED TX.  Knorr and McIntosh (SD IL) (CD CA) have two separate indictments, for the same crime.  For purposes of these statistics, they are only counted one time.

FN 2: This includes one defendant who received a new sentencing hearing and was sentenced to death twice: Sampson (D MA).

FN 3: This includes two defendants who received new sentencing hearings and were sentenced to death twice: Davis (ED LA) & Barnette (WD NC).

FN 4: One defendant was originally sentenced to death, then to life by the judge on retrial. Hammer (MD PA). Another defendant was sentenced to death by a jury, but a new trial motion was granted. A second jury sentenced him to life without release. Lecco (SD WV).

FN 5: One defendant was sentenced to death, obtained sentencing relief, was sentenced to death again. However, on remand from the 2nd Circuit, the district judge dismissed the death sentence due to intellectual disability. Wilson (ED NY). Another defendant had one capital count and the death sentence reversed and then the judge dismissed the death penalty request due to intellectual disability. Hardy (ED LA).

FN 6: One defendant was sentenced to death, but a new trial was granted. The death request was withdrawn when she pled guilty and testified against her co-defendant. Friend (ND WV).

FN 7: One defendant was sentenced to death, obtained a reversal of the conviction, and pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement during the second trial. Fell (D VT).

FN 8: This totals 540 as Fackrel (ED TX) is counted both as his death sentence (one case) and awaiting trial (another case).

FN 9: One defendant had no victims.