Death Penalty - Federal

There is an interesting case being played out in Iowa right now – interesting because not only does it involves a woman on Death Row facing the death penalty, but also because it involves the federal death penalty statute.

Here’s what’s going on.

Last week, United States District Judge Mark Bennett, setting on the U.S.

Jared Loughner is accused of violating federal laws that carry with them the death penalty, and he’s already been charged with capital murder in a Phoenix federal courtroom.  (Read the federal indictment here.) Arizona law has also been violated in this horrific crime, and the State of Arizona is planning its own separate prosecution of

Earlier, we posted an organized list of the mitigating factors recognized by the various states still imposing the death penalty, and that effort has received a good response. It’s been helpful. 

Accordingly, In tandem with that state list, we provide an itemized list (hopefully user-friendly) of the corresponding mitigating factors – as well as aggravating factors – that are recognized in federal death penalty cases (non-military).

Federal Death Penalty Statutes – Overview

Federal law provides for the sentence of death when a wide variety of crimes have been committed.  Under federal law, you can be executed without having yourself killing anyone.  For a complete list of the various federal statutes allowing for the death penalty, please refer to the excellent resource list provided by the Death Penalty Information Center.  There’s over 40 listed there, at last count. 

In federal death penalty cases, the defense must have two attorneys, and one of them must be death-penalty qualified.  After guilt has been adjudicated, there is a separate trial to determine first if capital punishment is legally an option; thereafter, evidence is presented on the aggravating factors and the mitigators. 

Mitigating circumstances need only be proven by a preponderance of the evidence; however, the prosecution must establish its aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt.  The federal death penalty jury cannot sentence a defendant to death unless the vote is unanimous. 

Mitigating Factors In Federal Death Penalty Cases

(1) Impaired capacity.

The defendant’s capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of the defendant’s conduct or to conform conduct to the requirements of law was significantly impaired, regardless of whether the capacity was so impaired as to constitute a defense to the charge.

(2) Duress.

The defendant was under unusual and substantial duress, regardless of whether the duress was of such a degree as to constitute a defense to the charge.

(3) Minor participation.

The defendant is punishable as a principal in the offense, which was committed by another, but the defendant’s participation was relatively minor, regardless of whether the participation was so minor as to constitute a defense to the charge.

(4) Equally culpable defendants.

Another defendant or defendants, equally culpable in the crime, will not be punished by death.

(5) No prior criminal record.

The defendant did not have a significant prior history of other criminal conduct.

(6) Disturbance.

The defendant committed the offense under severe mental or emotional disturbance.

(7) Victim’s consent.

The victim consented to the criminal conduct that resulted in the victim’s death.

(8) Other factors.

Other factors in the defendant’s background, record, or character or any other circumstance of the offense that mitigate against imposition of the death sentence.

Aggravating Factors in Federal Death Penalty Cases

Federal law defines different aggravating factors depending upon the crime involved: treason, for example, has a different set of aggravating factors than homicide or a drug conviction.  The aggravating factors in federal capital punishment cases are as follows:


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News coverage of Timothy O’Reilly’s murder trial this week is providing an example of what occurs during the penalty phase of a death penalty case, specifically one in the federal system, as the Detroit federal courtroom hears testimony from both prosecution and defense in the Timothy O’Reilly case. 

A jury has just returned a guilty

[The following post is being republished here with the permission of its author, James Clark, field organizer for the ACLU, Southern California.  It was previously published on the Huffington Post on June 28, 2010.]

California’s governor has proposed closing the state’s $20 billion budget gap with a drastic cuts-only approach; slashing funding for vital human services without working to increase revenue. Yet one state program seems to be immune from these cuts: the death penalty.

We think the time has come to CUT THIS. (see video below) 

California spends vast amounts of money prosecuting death penalty cases and supporting death row. To avoid executing an innocent person, the death penalty process is long, complicated, and expensive. Each prosecution seeking death costs approximately $1.1 million more than a trial seeking permanent imprisonment, and with more than 700 inmates, California’s death row is by far the largest and most costly in the nation. In total, California’s death penalty system costs taxpayers $137 million per year.

Contrast that with just $11 million per year if we replace the death penalty with permanent imprisonment. Top that off with $400 million saved if we don’t build a new death row, needed because the existing one is so old and overcrowded.

Today, if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were to convert the sentences of all those on death row to permanent imprisonment, the state would save $1 billion over the next five years without releasing a single prisoner.

But the death penalty is not on the chopping block. Rather than cutting the death penalty, the governor has focused on cutting the "rehabilitation" side of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Programs emphasizing education, rehabilitation, and addiction treatment have all seen cuts to their budgets, while death penalty prosecutions continue statewide. 


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Yesterday, former Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan began answering questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as confirmation hearings started on her nomination to the United States Supreme Court. 

Elena Kagan is young at 50 years old and her presence on the High Court could impact the law of the land for several