Federal Death Penalty Is Focused on New York--Almost All Defendants From Minorities

Although New York's death penalty was overturned by the state's high court in 2004, and the legislature has not reinstated it, the federal government has sought the death penalty more in New York than in any other state except Virginia.  However, none of the federal cases has resulted in a death sentence.

Since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, thirty-seven federal capital cases have been authorized in New York, compared with 50 in Virginia and 385 nationwide, according to data from the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project.  Of the 37 capital cases in New York, 14 were resolved before going to trial.  Of the 13 cases that have gone to trial, none resulted in a death sentence.  Instead, defendants were sentenced to life without parole.

An additional 52 defendants have been charged with capital-eligible crimes in New York, and are awaiting a determination by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as to whether the death penalty will be sought. New York has more potential federal death penalty cases in the pipeline than any other state.

According to data provided by the death penalty project, the Justice Department in Washington may be using a more aggressive approach towards seeking the death penalty in New York, noting that in many of the cases there was no recommendation from the local U.S. attorney to seek a death sentence.  Instead, the decision was solely that of the Attorney General.

On a national level, 161 capital cases have gone to trial, with 15 resulting in verdicts of not guilty on all capital counts in the case. The remaining 146 cases have resulted in 95 life sentences and 51 death sentences (or 32% of the cases that have gone to trial).

Almost all (35 out of 37, or 95%) of the defendants in the federal death penalty cases in New York are members of minorities.  On a national level in federal capital cases, 73% of the defendants (281 out of 385) are members of minorities.

(New York Law Journal, August 2, 2006).  See also Federal Death Penalty and Arbitrariness.