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The federal government resumed the practice of capital punishment after a 17-year hiatus in July 2020. Thirteen people were executed in the span of seven months.
The resumption of federal executions by the Trump administration and subsequent killing spree is notably out of step with the progress the United States has made toward abolishing capital punishment. Ten states abolished the death penalty since the federal government's last spate of executions in 2003, and public support for the practice is at a historic low.
Prior to the federal execution restart in 2020, a total of 340 people had been executed in the U.S. for federal crimes. Only 37 of these were executed by the federal government.
After the Supreme Court imposed a moratorium on the death penalty with the Furman decision in 1972, the federal government did not reinstate the death penalty until The Anti-Drug Act of 1988.
Even with the broadening of the death penalty with The Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, only three people were executed between 1988 and 2020, showing the rare use of the federal death penalty. The Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 outlines 60 crimes which qualify for the federal death penalty: espionage, treason, terrorist acts, and political assassinations.
Once criminals are sentenced to death, they are placed in maximum security prisons, such as Florence ADMAX or the U.S. Penitentiary. The 1994 Act states that the method of execution should be determined by the state in which the execution takes place. The most commonly used method is lethal injection.
Recent attempts to abolish the federal death penalty, including one in 2013, have not yet been successful. In 2017, Republicans tried to pass The Thin Blue Line Act which would make the murder of a police officer, firefighter, or first responder killed in federal jurisdiction an aggravating factor in federal cases.
Currently, there are roughly 60 people on federal death row. Of those 60, only one faces a charge of terrorism and the remaining 59 are not federally specific. These individuals have been caught in inter-state crimes. The federal death penalty system is riddled with the same flaws found on the state level, including racial bias, arbitrariness, and the targeting of vulnerable populations.