Most every state has some sort of capital punishment, or “death penalty,” for certain crimes. In addition to the state criminal statutes, the federal government also has a death penalty. The death penalty is a punishment for certain felony crimes. It usually involves a lethal injection of a cocktail of drugs designed to peacefully kill someone. However, as recently covered by the news, sometimes the ideal does not translate in the execution room.
The federal government re-enacted the death penalty in 1988 after the Supreme Court struck down the original law. The 1988 law enacted the death penalty for murder in the course of a drug kingpin conspiracy. In 1994, capital punishment was expanded to include 60 crimes. Three of those crimes do not involve murder; espionage, treason and drug trafficking of large amounts.
In order for a local Assistant U.S. Attorney to seek the death penalty, he or she must file an official request with the Attorney General. The Department of Justice reviews each application seeking the death penalty and gives a recommendation to the Attorney General. If the Attorney General approves the application to seek the death penalty, then the AUSA may alert the court that the government will be seeking the death penalty.
During a death penalty trial, the issues are divided into two phases. First the jury is asked to determine guilt or innocence. Second, the jury is asked to determine if sufficient aggravating factors are present to warrant the death penalty. At this second phase, the defendant is permitted to prevent evidence of mitigating circumstances, like family, religious work or other evidence of repentance.
Although executions are rare at the federal level, they still happen, and the threat is very real. It is important you know all of the possible consequences of a criminal trial or plea bargain before deciding how to proceed with your defense strategy. The death penalty is one significant part of those risks.
For this reason, having the representation of an experienced criminal defense attorney could prove beneficial. Just because something does not happen that often does not mean that your case won’t be the exception. Take the time to consider your options before making a decision regarding your defense strategy.