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.


The federal death penalty applies in all 50 states and U.S. territories but is used relatively rarely. About 45 prisoners are on the federal death row, most of whom are imprisoned in Terre Haute, Indiana. Sixteen federal executions have been carried out in the modern era, all by lethal injection, with 13 occurring in a six-month period between July 2020 and January 2021.

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

Intellectual Disability

Nov 04, 2021

Supreme Court Declines to Review Death Sentence in Case in Which Federal Prosecutors and Defense Agree Defendant’s Intellectual Disability Makes Him Ineligible for the Death Penalty

In a rul­ing that pro­voked a sharp dis­sent from the Court’s lib­er­al minor­i­ty, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review the case of a death-row pris­on­er whom pros­e­cu­tors and defense lawyers agree is not eli­gi­ble for the death penal­ty as a resul…