Since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, the state of New York has been more reluctant to impose death sentences than other states, according to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project. New York federal prosecutors have asked juries to impose death sentences 19 times, but in only one of those cases did they vote for the death penalty. Nationally, federal prosecutors win death penalties in about 33% of cases. In some cases, federal judges in New York have asked the Justice Department to reconsider its authorization of the death penalty. Judge Jack B. Weinstein recently stated that a particular death penalty case before him was a waste of taxpayer money because of the unlikelihood of a death sentence.

In federal cases, the decision to seek the death penalty is first reviewed by a committee at the Department of Justice and then must be approved by the Attorney General. During John Ashcroft’s tenure as Attorney General, the United States attorney’s offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan were ordered to pursue the federal death penalty in 10 cases where the local prosecutors had not recommended doing so.

Brooklyn Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis has also asked the Justice Department to reconsider seeking the death penalty in some cases he has overseen. He noted, “There are judges — and I’m not speaking for them — who clearly look upon the death penalty as so unlikely to be ordered by a jury that it’s not worthwhile to pursue it. Especially because the alternative is life in prison without the possibility of release.”

Three people have been executed under federal law since that death penalty law was reinstated in 1988.
(“Aversion to Death Penalty, but No Lack of Cases,” by Alan Feuer, The New York Times, March 10, 2008). See Federal Death Penalty.