Current Statistics re Use of Federal Death Penalty


December 13, 2023

Since 1988, the federal government has taken to trial a total of 211 federal death penalty cases involving 307 defendants in 241 trials.  These 307 defendants were culled from a larger pool of 540 (FN1) against whom the Attorney General had authorized the government to seek the death penalty.  Excluding 3 defendants who are awaiting or currently on trial on capital charges, 280 of the remaining 537 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.  Thirteen 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.  Four 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 156 (64%) life sentences and 87 (36%) death sentences.  Of these 87 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 sought the death penalty upon retrial, but the case resolved with another life sentence. The dispositions of these cases is summarized below:

Executed 16
Sentenced to death and now pending appeal (FN2) 12
Sentenced to death and now pending 2255 (FN3) 28
Died Before Execution 5
Clemency 2
Awaiting retrial or re-sentencing after reversal 2
Death sentence vacated and request for the death penalty withdrawn 10
Life sentences imposed by juries (153) or judges (3) (FN4) 159
Life sentence vacated and retrial pending 0
Acquittal 13
Capital charges dismissed before trial on grounds of actual innocence 3
Dismissal of death penalty by Judge after death notice filed (FN5) 27
Requestes for the death penalty withdrawn by the government before trial 90
Requests for the death penalty withdrawn at trial 14
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 4
Lesser included conviction 3
Incompetent after authorization 2
Death Sentence Reversed - Intellectually Disabled 3
Awaiting or on trial on capital charges 1
TOTAL 540 (FN8)

Of the total of 540 (FN1) defendants against whom the Attorney General has authorized the government to request the death penalty, 149 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 540, or 72%, of the defendants approved for a capital prosecution by the Attorney Generals to date are members of minority groups.  Twenty-two of the forty defendants now on federal death row under active death sentences, or 55%, are non-white. Twenty-four, or 60%, of federal death row were convicted of killing whites.  Only 199, or 37% of the 540 authorized killed whites.  103, or 19% of the 540 killed a white female. Fifteen of the forty defendants currently on death row, or 38%, 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 four 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, while thier co-defendant Sahakian had additional vitims in the (CD CA) case.  For purposes of these statistics, they are only counted one time.

FN 2: This includes two defendants who received a new sentencing hearings and were sentenced to death twice: Davis (ED LA) & Barnette (WD NC).

FN 3: 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 4: One defendant had his capital conviction overturned and a dismissal of death penalty by judge. Sherman Fields (WD TX).

FN 5: One defendant was sentenced to death, but a new trial was granted. The death request was dithdrawn when she pled guilty and testified against her co-defendant. Friend (ND WV). 

FN 6: 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 7: 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). The third defendant, who presented evidence before trial of intellectual disability, was sentenced to death. After litigation involving lethal injection litigation, the defendant presented new evidence of his intellectual disability and was finally found intellectually disabled. Webster (NDTX).

FN 8: This totals 540 as Fackrel (ED TX) is counted once, although he is under a death sentence (one case) and awaiting trial (another case).