Some people who are facing federal charges are facing the harshest penalty possible in the criminal justice system — death. Many people don’t realize that there is a federal death penalty that some defendants who are charged with murder can face.

The federal death penalty is usually reserved for people who are convicted of murdering federal officials, treason, espionage, kidnapping that results in a death or running a large scale drug operation. All told, the current federal death penalty is possible for 60 crimes. Only three of those don’t involve a murder. Even though this sentence is possible, it isn’t likely.

The federal death penalty has been changed some. Since the new federal death penalty for murder in the course of drug sales by kingpins went into effect in 1988, only six people have been sentenced to death. None of those executions have been carried out to date. This is because people who are facing the death penalty are able to launch appeals that might stop the execution.

In 2001, Timothy McVeigh was the first person to be executed in 38 years. His role in the Oklahoma City bombing led to this sentence. Prior to his death, more updates were made to the federal death penalty statues. One of these, which was made in 1994, was in direct response to his bombing.

For the people who are facing this possibility, fighting the original charges is necessary. This can be difficult in federal court because the federal prosecutors have extensive resources to draw from when they are developing these prosecution’s case. This is why getting an early start is vital for all defendants.

Source: FindLaw, “Capital Punishment at the Federal Level,” accessed May 05, 2017