Current Statistics re Use of Federal Death Penalty


August 28, 2020

Since 1988, the federal government has taken to trial a total of 208 federal death penalty cases involving 304 defendants in 238 trials.  These 304 defendants were culled from a larger pool of 537 (FN1) against whom the Attorney General had authorized the government to seek the death penalty.  Excluding 34 defendants who are awaiting or currently on trial on capital charges, 249 of the remaining 503 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 eight 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, but the government filed for and received a new trial.  The dispositions of these cases is summarized below:

Executed 8
Sentenced to death and now pending appeal 10
Sentenced to death and now pending 2255 46
Died Before Execution 1
Clemency 2
Awaiting retrial or re-sentencing after reversal 2
Death sentence vacated and request for the death penalty withdrawn 7
Life sentences imposed by juries (153) or judges (3) 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 28
Requestes for the death penalty withdrawn by the government before trial 63
Requests for the death penalty withdrawn at trial 12
Capital prosecution discontinued by government due to plea bargain before trial 123
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 32
TOTAL 538 (FN2)

Of the total of 537 (FN1) defendants against whom the Attorney General has authorized the government to request the death penalty, 147 have been white, or 27%, 99 Hispanic, or 18%, 28 Asian/Indian/Pacific Islander/Native American/Filipino/Middle Eastern, or 5% and 263 African-Americans, or 50%.  390 of the 537, or 73%, of the defendants approved for a capital prosecution by the Attorney Generals to date are members of minority groups.  Thirty-four of the fifty-six defendants now on federal death row under active death sentences, or 61%, are non-white. Thirty-three, or 59%, of federal death row were convicted of killing whites.  Only 197, or 37% of the 537 authorized killed whites.  103, or 19% of the 537 killed a white female.  Nineteen of the fifty-six defendants currently on death row, or 34%, killed a white female. Of the eight executions, six of eight (75%) defendants killed a white female and seven of eight (88%) 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 totals 525 as Fackrel (ED TX) is reflected both as his death sentence (one case) and awaiting trial (another case).