ARBITRARINESS: One U.S. Attorney in Upstate New York Stands Out in Seeking Federal Death Penalty

The U.S. Attorney for Western New York has filed more potential federal death penalty cases than most of his colleagues across the country. Since taking office in March 2010, William J. Hochul, Jr. has petitioned the Justice Department to seek the death penalty against 24 people, more than his counterparts in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Miami or cities in Texas. Only two other federal prosecutors, both from more populous districts than Western New York, have filed as many death cases with Attorney General Eric Holder in the past 2 years. None of Hochul’s cases has yet resulted in a capital trial, much less a death sentence, but they have cost taxpayers more than $661,000 just in the past year. This expenditure is more than the combined amount spent by the area’s four previous U.S. attorneys on death penalty-eligible cases over the previous 11 years. Kevin McNally, who heads the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project said, “I seriously doubt whether any of [Hochul’s] defendants will actually face the death penalty at trial.” The Department of Justice spends an estimated $86 million a year on federal death penalty cases. Since the reinstatement of the federal death penalty in 1988, three defendants have been executed. David Kaczynzki, a member of New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said, “I do not see how even the staunchest supporter of the death penalty could argue that these prosecutions are an efficient use of taxpayer money.”

(D. Herbeck, “William Hochul puts death penalty to frequent tests,” Buffalo News, October 22, 2011). See Arbitrariness, Costs and Federal Death Penalty.