Death Sentences Are Almost Never Imposed at the Federal Level
(03 Aug 2023) The death sentence handed down by a jury yesterday in the case of Robert Bowers, the man who perpetrated the antisemitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, is extraordinarily rare. Federal records show that the death sentence is almost never imposed at the federal level, making the case truly exceptional. During the last 10 years, records of sentences by federal prosecutors show that death sentences were previously handed down on just 25 occasions out of more than 1.1 million federal sentences recorded.

Over the last twenty years, a total of 36 federal districts recorded at least one death sentence handed down out of a total of 2.5 million federal criminal sentences. Districts where this occurred were fairly widely spread across the country. The latest sentence in the Pittsburgh case appears to be the first since federal prosecutors in that district systematically tracked these starting in FY 2004. Only two districts, Arizona and the Eastern District of Texas, had more than five death sentences. Thirty out of the 36 districts recorded just one or two.

These numbers were compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University based on case-by-case federal records obtained from the Department of Justice after lengthy litigation under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The full report has additional details by fiscal year as well as by federal district.

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