Capital Punishment at the Federal Level

In addition to the death penalty laws in many states, the federal government has also employed capital punishment for certain federal offenses, such as murder of a government official, kidnapping resulting in death, running a large-scale drug enterprise, and treason. When the Supreme Court struck down state death penalty statutes in Furman, the federal death penalty statutes suffered from the same problems that the state statutes did. As a result, death sentences under the old federal death penalty statutes have not been upheld.

In 1988, a new federal death penalty statute was enacted for murder in the course of a drug-kingpin conspiracy. The statute was modeled on the post-Gregg statutes that the Supreme Court had approved. Since its enactment, six people have been sentenced to death for violating this law, though none has been executed.

In 1994, President Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that expanded the federal death penalty to sixty crimes, three of which do not involve murder. The exceptions are espionage, treason, and drug trafficking in large amounts.

Two years later, in response to the Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building, President Clinton signed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The Act, which affects both state and federal prisoners, restricts review in federal courts by establishing stricter filing deadlines, limiting the opportunity for evidentiary hearings, and ordinarily allowing only a single habeas corpus filing in federal court. Proponents of the death penalty argue that this streamlining will speed up the death penalty process and significantly reduce its cost, although others fear that quicker, more limited federal review may increase the risk of executing innocent defendants.

When he was executed on June 11, 2001, Timothy McVeigh became the first federal prisoner executed in 38 years. McVeigh was executed by lethal injection at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, for the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.


Inside Capital Punishment at the Federal Level