In the 20 years since the federal death penalty statute was revived, New York federal juries have been the most reluctant to use it, says the New York Times. The Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project says federal prosecutors in New York State have asked juries to impose death sentences 19 times since 1988. In only one case did a jury rule for execution. Nationwide, federal prosecutors win death penalties about one-third of the time.
Despite this track record, the cases have not stopped coming: In Brooklyn alone, there are six more capital cases on the docket this year. Federal judges in New York have gone so far as to call some death penalty cases a waste of time and money. Last week, Judge Jack Weinstein of Federal District Court in Brooklyn told prosecutors that their chances of obtaining a death sentence against a drug dealer charged with dismembering two rivals were “virtually nil” and issued an order in which he said he was waiting for the Justice Department to reconsider whether to pursue an execution. Experts say that there is a fundamental liberal slant to juries in the state, and that New York has some of the best death penalty defense lawyers in the country. They also say many victims in New York capital cases are unsavory characters: drug dealers, mobsters or members of street gangs – not the sort of people whose killers are likely to be punished with death.