Current Statistics re Use of Federal Death Penalty (February 2017)


February 2, 2017

Since 1988, the federal government has taken to trial a total of 203 federal death penalty cases involving 297 defendants in 233 trials. These 297 defendants were culled from a larger pool of 503 against whom the Attorney General had authorized the government to seek the death penalty. Excluding 11 defendants who are awaiting or currently on trial on capital charges, 238 of the remaining 492 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 three executions. One death row inmate was granted clemency. In cases where juries actually reached the point of choosing between life and death, they imposed 151 (65%) life sentences and 83 (35%) death sentences. Of these 83 sentences of death, 4 defendants received a death sentence twice. Three additional defendants received death verdicts, but new trials were granted and life sentences resulted - one by jury, another by plea, and third by judge.

The dispositions of these cases is summarized below:

Executed 3
Sentenced to death and now pending appeal 12
Sentenced to death and now pending 2255 48
Died Before Execution 1
Clemency 2
Awaiting retrial or re-sentencing after reversal 1
Death sentence vacated and request for the death penalty withdrawn 5
Life sentences imposed by juries (150) or judges (3) 153
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 27
Requestes for the death penalty withdrawn by the government before trial 61
Requests for the death penalty withdrawn at trial 12
Capital prosecution discontinued by government due to plea bargain before trial 120
Capital prosecution discontinued by government due to plea bargain at trial  22
Committed suicide/died 3
Lesser included conviction 3
Incompetent after authorization 2
Awaiting or on trial on capital charges 10

Of the total of 503 defendants against whom the Attorney General has authorized the government to request the death penalty, 135 have been white, or 27%, 93 Hispanic, or 18%, 21 Asian/Indian/Pacific Islander/Native American, or 4%, 3 Arab, or 1% and 251 African-Americans, or 50%.  368 of the 503, or 73%, of the defendants approved for a capital prosecution by the Attorney Generals to date are members of minority groups.  Thirty-five of the sixty defendants now on federal death row under active death sentences, or 58% are non-white. Thirty-five or 58% of federal death row were convicted of killing whites. Only 185, or 37% of the 503 authorized killed whites. Ninety-seven, or 19% of the 503 killed a white female. Twenty-three of the fifty-nine defendants currently on death row, or 38%, killed a white female.