Death Penalty for Federal Crimes

by | Sep 1, 2018 | Blog Posts, Federal Criminal Defense | 0 comments

Death penalty in Federal Court  death penalty

Though many states have abolished the death penalty, both North Carolina and South Carolina have not (click here to read about the death penalty in North Carolina). In addition, federal courts still impose the death penalty on defendants that are accused of certain crimes. (Click here to learn about what makes a crime a federal crime.)

As you can gather, the Supreme Court has found that the death penalty does not violent the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Because the death penalty is still used to penalize some people for certain federal crimes, it does not matter what state a federal defendant is tried in – it is still legal at the federal level, even if it has been made illegal at the state level. To determine whether the death will apply, federal courts make several determinations. In this Blog, we will discuss a few of the factors.

Sentencing hearing for federal crimes

After a defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty to a federal crime, a federal sentencing hearing occurs. In this hearing, the court uses the facts and circumstances that surround the to determine what sentence is appropriate. The judge further uses these facts and circumstances to determine what enhancements are applied.

What are mitigating and aggravating factors?

A mitigation factor is a fact that lessens the severity of the crime and reduces the likelihood of a death penalty sentence. An aggravating factor is a fact that makes the crime more severe and increases the likelihood of a sentence of death.

Mitigation factors
  • Impaired capacity
  • Duress
  • Minor participation
  • Equally Culpable defendants
  • No prior criminal record
  • Disturbance (defendant committed the offense under severe mental duress)
  • Victim’s consent
Aggravating factors

Under U.S. Code 3592, aggravating factors are organized under one of three separate categories; 1. Espionage and Treason, 2. Homicides, and 3. Drug offenses.

Aggravating factors for Espionage and Treason

  • Prior espionage or treason offense
  • Grave risk to national security
  • Grave risk of death

Aggravating factors for homicide:

  • Death during the commission of another crime
  • Previous conviction of a violent felony involving a firearm
  • Previous conviction of a serious offense
  • Grave risk of death to additional persons
  • Heinous, cruel, or depraved manner of committing offense
  • Procurement of offense by payment
  • Pecuniary gain
  • Substantial planning and premeditation
  • Conviction for two felony drug offenses
  • Vulnerability of the victim
  • Conviction for serious drug offenses
  • Continuing criminal enterprise involving drug sales to minors
  • High public officials – the defendant committed the offense against
  • Prior conviction of sexual assault or child molestation
  • Multiple killings or attempted killings

Aggravating factors for drug offenses

  • Previous conviction of offense for which a sentence of death or life imprisonment was authorized
  • Previous conviction of other serious offenses
  • Previous serious drug felony conviction
  • Use of a firearm
  • Distribution to persons under 21
  • Distribution near schools
  • Using minors in trafficking
  • Lethal adulterant

All of these factors are considered together by the sentencing judge to decide of whether or not the death penalty will apply. In addition, the recommendation of the prosecutor is also considered.

Federal crimes are typically serious and require diligent representation. If you are a loved one has been charged with a federal crime, contact us. At Gilles Law we handle federal criminal defense in North Carolina, and federal criminal defense in South Carolina.




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