Death Penalty Prisoner Petitions Fall Sharply

Table 1. Death Penalty Prisoner Petitions
Number Latest Month 5
Number for first 7 months of FY 2019 62
Number for FY 2018 164
Number for FY 2017 219
The latest available data from the federal courts show that during April 2019 the government reported only 5 new prisoner petitions challenging their death penalty sentence. According to the case-by-case court records analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, there were just 62 death penalty challenges for the first seven months of FY 2019. They have fallen over fifty percent (51.6%) over the last two years. Petitions are on pace to be the lowest number filed in over a decade. See Table 1.

The comparisons of the number of civil filings for death penalty-related suits are based on case- by-case federal court records which were compiled and analyzed by TRAC (see Table 1).

The decline in the number of death penalty prisoner petitions filed in the federal courts is shown more clearly in Figure 1. Since FY 2008, death penalty petitions reached a peak during FY 2009 when they totaled 245. The previous low was five years ago in FY 2014 when they fell to 162. If the current pace of filings continues during the remaining months of FY 2019, filings are projected to be only slight above one hundred this year.

Figure 1. Death Penalty Prisoner Petitions, FY 2008 - FY 2019 (April 2019)
(Click for larger image)

Where Are Death Penalty Petitions Being Filed?

Nearly half of death penalty petitions thus far during FY 2019 have been filed in just 6 of the 94 federal judicial districts. The Middle District of Florida tops the list with 7 cases: two filed in the Tampa area, 2 in the Orlando area, 2 in the Jacksonville court office, and the remaining case with the court in Ft. Myers.

Nevada was a close second with a total of 6 cases filed thus far this fiscal year. Four of these were filed with the court in Las Vegas, and two with the Reno court. The Northern District of Alabama was third with a total of five cases thus far.

The remaining three districts that made up the ranks of districts with the most cases with four death penalty petitions each were: the Eastern District of California, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the Northern District of Texas.

There were a total of 31 federal district courts which had at least one death penalty petition. These are shown below in Table 2.

Table 2. Death Penalty Prisoner Petitions Filed by Federal Judicial District, October 2018 - April 2019
Total 62
Fla, M 7
Nevada 6
Ala, N 5
Cal, E 4
Penn, E 4
Texas, N 4
Arizona 3
Ala, M 2
Cal, C 2
Okla, W 2
Texas, S 2
Texas, W 2
Ark, E 1
Cal, N 1
Cal, S 1
Fla, N 1
Fla, S 1
Ga, N 1
Idaho 1
Ind, S 1
Kansas 1
La, E 1
Mo, E 1
N Car, M 1
Ohio, S 1
Oregon 1
Penn, M 1
Penn, W 1
S Car 1
S Dakota 1
Texas, E 1

Each month, TRAC offers a free report focused on one area of civil litigation in the U.S. district courts. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports by district, office, nature of suit or federal jurisdiction via the TRAC Data Interpreter.