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Capital punishment is a legal penalty under the United States federal government criminal justice system. It can be imposed for treason, espionage, murder, large-scale drug trafficking, or attempted murder of a witness, juror, or court officer in certain cases.
The federal government imposes and carries out a small minority of the death sentences in the U.S., with the majority being applied by state governments.The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) manages the housing and execution of federal death row prisoners.
As of 2021 [update] , all inmates currently under federal death sentences were condemned for aggravated murder. As of May 5,2021 [update] , there were 46 offenders on the federal death row.
The Crimes Act of 1790 defined some capital offenses: treason, murder, robbery, piracy, mutiny, hostility against the United States, counterfeiting, and aiding the escape of a capital prisoner.The first federal execution was that of Thomas Bird on June 25, 1790, due to his committing "murder on the high seas".
The use of the death penalty in U.S. territories was handled by federal judges and the U.S. Marshal Service.
Historically, members of the U.S. Marshals Service conducted all federal executions.Pre-Furman executions by the federal government were normally carried out within the prison system of the state in which the crime was committed. Only in cases where the crime was committed in a territory, the District of Columbia, or a state without the death penalty was it the norm for the court to designate the state in which the death penalty would be carried out, as the federal prison system did not have an execution facility.
The last pre-Furman federal execution took place on March 15, 1963, when Victor Feguer was executed for kidnapping and murder, after President John F. Kennedy denied clemency.
Capital punishment was halted in 1972 after the Furman v. Georgia decision but was once again permitted under the Gregg v. Georgia decision in 1976.
In the late 1980s, Senator Alfonse D'Amato, from New York State, sponsored a bill to make certain federal drug crimes eligible for the death penalty as he was frustrated by the lack of a death penalty in his home state.The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 restored the death penalty under federal law for drug offenses and some types of murder. President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, expanding the federal death penalty in 1994. In response to the Oklahoma City bombing, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 was passed in 1996. Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute became the only federal prison to execute people and one of only three prisons to hold federally condemned people.
The federal death penalty applies even in areas without a state death penalty since federal criminal law is the same for the entire country and is enforced by federal courts, rather than by state courts. From 1988 to October 2019, federal juries gave death sentences to eight convicts in places without a state death penalty when the crime was committed and tried.
Timothy McVeigh was executed on June 11, 2001, for his involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing where 168 people were killed. It was the first federal execution since 1963; it was broadcast on a closed circuit-television to survivors and victims' families.
Most of the federal death row inmates are imprisoned at Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.[ citation needed ]As of 2017 [update] , aside from those at Terre Haute, three male death row inmates are held at ADX Florence and one is held at Springfield MCFP. Two people have been re-sentenced since 1976 to life in prison and three had their sentences commuted to life in prison: one by President Bill Clinton in 2001, and two in 2017 by President Barack Obama, who commuted one death sentence handed down by a federal district court and one another issued by a court-martial.
On July 25, 2019, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced that the federal government would resume executions using pentobarbital, rather than the three-drug cocktail previously used.The Bureau of Prisons' acting director then scheduled 5 convicted death row inmates to be executed in December 2019 and January 2020. However, on November 20, 2019, U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan issued a preliminary injunction preventing the resumption of federal executions, because the plaintiffs in the case argued that the use of pentobarbital alone violated the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994. The injunction was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and, on December 6, 2019, by the United States Supreme Court, but it told the court of appeals to rule on the case "with appropriate dispatch". Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh wrote that they believed the government would ultimately win the case and that they would have set a 60-day deadline for the court of appeals to finalize it. In January 2020, the Justice Department argued to the appeals court that when Congress declared that federal executions must be carried out "in the manner prescribed by the state" where inmates were convicted, it was referring to the general method of execution allowed in states, such as lethal injection, rather than the specific drugs to be used.
In July 2020, the first federal execution under the presidency of Donald Trump was carried out, the first federal executions after a 17 year hiatus.Subsequent executions would include the first woman executed by the federal government in 67 years. Overall, thirteen federal prisoners were executed between July 2020 and January 2021. It is currently unknown if federal executions will continue during the presidency of Joe Biden, although Biden does oppose capital punishment in the United States.
It is the intention of Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Ayanna Pressley to introduce legislation in the 117th Congress to discontinue the federal death penalty.Durbin and Pressley cited wrongful convictions and racial disparities as partial justification for their effort.
Democrats introduced the Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act of 2021 on January 4, 2021. The bill is currently before the House Judiciary Committee.
In the federal system, the final decision to seek the death penalty rests with the United States Attorney General. This differs from states, where local prosecutors have the final say with no involvement from the state attorney general.
The sentence is decided by the jury and must be unanimous.
Sentences of death handed down by a jury cannot be rejected by the judge.
In case of a hung jury during the penalty phase of the trial, a life sentence is issued, even if a single juror opposed death (there is no retrial).
While death row inmates sentenced by state governments may appeal to both state courts and federal courts, federal death row inmates have to appeal directly to federal courts.
The power of clemency belongs to the President of the United States.
These are the offenses which may result in the death penalty under the United States Code:
The method of execution of federal prisoners for offenses under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 is that of the state in which the conviction took place. If the state has no death penalty, the judge must select a state with the death penalty for carrying out the execution.
The federal government has a facility and regulations only for executions by lethal injection, but the United States Code allows U.S. Marshals to use state facilities and employees for federal executions.
Federal executions by lethal injection occur at the United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute.
|Executed convict||Date of execution||Method||President assassinated||Under president|
|George Atzerodt||July 7, 1865||hanging||Abraham Lincoln||Andrew Johnson|
|David Herold||July 7, 1865||hanging||Abraham Lincoln|
|Lewis Powell||July 7, 1865||hanging||Abraham Lincoln|
|Mary Surratt||July 7, 1865||hanging||Abraham Lincoln|
|Charles J. Guiteau||June 30, 1882||hanging||James A. Garfield||Chester A. Arthur|
|Leon Czolgosz||October 29, 1901||electrocution||William McKinley||Theodore Roosevelt|
Four Presidents of the United States were murdered while in office. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln was tried by a military commission based on the military nature of the conspiracy. Charles Guiteau's trial was held in a civilian court of the District of Columbia where the assassination of James Garfield happened.
The assassin of William McKinley, Leon Czolgosz, was tried and executed for murder by New York state authorities. The accused assassin of John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, would presumably have been tried for murder by Texas state authorities had he not been killed two days later by Jack Ruby in the basement of the Dallas Municipal Building (then Dallas Police Department headquarters) while being transferred to the county jail. (Ruby himself was initially tried and convicted of murder in a Texas state court, but that was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and he died before he could be retried.) Only after Kennedy's death was it made a federal crime to murder the President of the United States.
The United States military has executed 135 people since 1916. The most recent person to be executed by the military is U.S. Army Private John A. Bennett, executed on April 13, 1961, for child rape and attempted murder. Since the end of the Civil War in 1865, only one person has been executed for a purely military offense: Private Eddie Slovik, who was executed on January 31, 1945, after being convicted of desertion.
For offenses related to their service, members of the military are usually tried in courts-martial that apply the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and may order the death penalty as a possible sentence for some crimes. Military commissions may be also established in the field in time of war to expeditiously try and sentence enemy military personnel under the UCMJ for certain offenses. 5 :16–18 Controversially, the Military Commissions Act of 2009 allows military commissions to try and sentence "'alien unprivileged enemy belligerent[s]'" accused of having "'engaged in'" or "'purposefully and materially support[ed] hostilities'" against the United States or its allies, without the benefit of some UCMJ protections. :7–9 In a military commission trial, the death penalty may only be imposed in case of a unanimous verdict and sentencing decision. :31:
Capital punishment, also called the death penalty, is a legal penalty in the United States, with it being a legal punishment in 27 states, American Samoa, the federal government, and the military. Although it is a legal penalty in 27 states, only 21 states have the ability to execute death sentences, with the other 6 being subject to different types of moratoria. The Virginia General Assembly has enacted an Act that abolishes the death penalty in that state beginning July 1, 2021, and no executions have been scheduled between the present and that date, effectively abolishing capital punishment immediately. The existence of capital punishment in the United States can be traced to early colonial Virginia. Along with Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore, the United States is one of four advanced democracies and the only Western nation that applies the death penalty regularly. It is one of 55 countries worldwide applying it, and was the first to develop lethal injection as a method of execution, which has since been adopted by five other countries. The Philippines has since abolished executions, and Guatemala has done so for civil offenses, leaving the United States as one of four countries to still use this method. In Singapore and Japan, executions are carried out by long drop hanging. In Taiwan, the preferred method of execution has long been by fatal gunshot; though never used, lethal injection was considered by authorities in the past and remains an option on the books. It is common practice worldwide for the condemned to be administered sedatives prior to execution, regardless of the method used.
Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of California. As of March 2019, further executions are halted by an official moratorium ordered by Governor Gavin Newsom. Prior to the moratorium, executions were frozen by a federal court order since 2006, and the litigation resulting in the court order has been on hold since the enactment of the moratorium. As such, there will be a court ordered moratorium on executions after the termination of Newsom's moratorium if the death penalty exists in California by then.
Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Ohio. All executions, however, have been suspended indefinitely by Governor Mike DeWine, and lethal injection will no longer be used as a method of capital punishment. DeWine has suspended all executions until a new method of execution is chosen. That, however, does not seem to be a legislative priority, and as a result, there are likely to be no more executions in the state of Ohio for a long time. The last execution in the state was in July 2018, when Robert J. Van Hook was executed via lethal injection for murder.
Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Utah.
Capital punishment in the state of Washington was abolished on October 11, 2018 when the state Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional as applied. On September 10, 2010, Cal Coburn Brown became the last person to be executed in the Washington State before it was abolished in 2018.
Capital punishment was abolished via the legislative process on May 2, 2013 in the U.S. state of Maryland.
Bobbie Jo Stinnett was a pregnant 23-year-old American woman found murdered in her home in Skidmore, Missouri. The perpetrator, Lisa Marie Montgomery, then aged 36, strangled Stinnett and cut her unborn fetus, eight months into gestation, from her womb. The baby was safely recovered by authorities and returned to the father.
Capital punishment is a legal penalty under the U.S. military criminal justice system. Despite its legality, capital punishment has not been imposed by the U.S. military in over sixty years.
Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the state of Texas, part of the United States.
Capital punishment was abolished in Virginia on March 24, 2021, when Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill into law. The law will take effect on July 1, 2021, but no executions will take place before that date. Virginia is the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty, and the first Southern state in United States history to do so.
Capital punishment in Connecticut formerly existed as an available sanction for a criminal defendant upon conviction for the commission of a capital offense. Since the 1976 United States Supreme Court decision in Gregg v. Georgia until Connecticut repealed capital punishment in 2012, Connecticut had only executed one person, Michael Bruce Ross in 2005. Initially, the 2012 law allowed executions to proceed for those still on death row and convicted under the previous law, but on August 13, 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that applying the death penalty only for past cases was unconstitutional.
Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Alabama.
Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Idaho.
Death row, also known as condemned row, is a place in a prison that houses inmates awaiting execution after being convicted of a capital crime. The term is also used figuratively to describe the state of awaiting execution, even in places where no special facility or separate unit for condemned inmates exists. In the United States, after a person is found guilty of a capital offense in death penalty states, the judge will give the jury the option of imposing a death sentence or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. It is then up to a jury to decide whether to give the death sentence; this usually has to be a unanimous decision. If the jury agrees on death, the defendant will remain on death row during appeal and habeas corpus procedures, which may continue for several years.
Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of North Carolina.
Capital punishment was abolished in the U.S. state of North Dakota in 1973. Historically, a total of eight people have been executed in North Dakota, including one execution prior to North Dakota attaining statehood.
Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Georgia. Georgia reintroduced the death penalty in 1973 after Furman v. Georgia ruled all states' death penalty statutes unconstitutional. The first execution to take place afterwards occurred in 1983.
Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.
Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Kentucky.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, the incoming chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., are unveiling legislation that would seek to end federal capital punishment, putting a focus on the issue as their party prepares to take over complete control of Congress, along with the White House.