Capital punishment in the District of Columbia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Capital punishment in the District of Columbia is forbidden by law. However, a number of executions were carried out under District's jurisdiction before abolition. These executions should be distinguished from cases such as 1942 execution of the six Nazi saboteurs which took place in the District, but under the Federal Government.[1]


Before 1973, the District of Columbia was exclusively governed by the United States Congress, which included establishing all local laws. Until 1962, D.C. was the last jurisdiction in the United States with mandatory death sentences for first-degree murder (the last state with mandatory death sentences for first degree murder was Vermont). Mandatory death sentences were abolished by the HR5143 (PL87-423), signed into law by President John F. Kennedy on March 22, 1962.[2] Rape was another capital offense.[3]

D.C. capital punishment law was nullified by the United States Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia in 1972 and formally repealed by the D.C. Council in 1981. In the 1992 Congress-ordered referendum, District residents voted 2-1 against the death penalty. In 1997 then-Mayor Marion Barry proposed a bill allowing capital punishment for the murder of public safety employees, which was rejected by the Council's Judiciary Committee.[4]

The first recorded execution in Washington, D.C., was the hanging of James McGirk in 1802. The last execution took place in 1957, when Robert Carter was put to death by electric chair.

Hanging was the method of execution that had been used in the District until 1928, when it was replaced by the electric chair, last time used in 1957.[5]

The President of the United States has sole pardoning power in the District.

See also[edit]