State & Federal Info

Federal Death Penalty

The federal government can seek death sentences for a limited set of crimes, but federal executions are much rarer than state executions.

For more information regarding the federal executions scheduled for July through September 2020, see our page Federal Execution Updates. See DPIC Statement on Federal Executions.

Overview

The federal death penalty applies in all 50 states and U.S. territories but is used relatively rarely. About 60 prisoners are on the federal death row, most of whom are imprisoned in Terre Haute, Indiana. Three federal executions have been carried out in the modern era, all by lethal injection, with the last occurring in 2003.

The federal death penalty was held unconstitutional following the Supreme Court’s opinion of Furman v. Georgia in 1972. Unlike the quick restoration of the death penalty in most states, the federal death penalty was not reinstated until 1988, and then only for a very narrow class of offenses. The Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 greatly expanded the number of eligible offenses to about 60.

The use of the federal death penalty in jurisdictions that have themselves opted not to have capital punishment—such as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and many states—has raised particular concerns about federal overreach into state matters.


News & Developments


Aug 02, 2020

NEWS BRIEF — Federal Government, Texas Set New Execution Dates

As July 2020 came to a close, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment issued two more notices of exe­cu­tion and a coun­ty judge in Texas report­ed­ly issued a new death war­rant for a death-row pris­on­er whose pre­vi­ous­ly sched­uled exe­cu­tion had been stayed.

Jul 13, 2020

Chaos Surrounds Attempts to Resume Federal Executions

As the U.S. Department of Justice seeks to resume fed­er­al exe­cu­tions after a 17-year hia­tus, the government’s rushed time­frame, the ongo­ing COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, and unre­solved issues involv­ing the lethal-injec­tion pro­to­col, and the vic­tims’ family’s…