Does New York Have The Death Penalty?

Last Updated on May 21, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

The way in which the world works, has systems in place, with laws and regulations, ensuring that society can function smoothly, in as just a manner as possible. There are laws, and then there are punishments when said laws are broken, of varying degrees according to the severity of the crimes.

One of the most controversial punishments of all is the death penalty, which is when the person accused of the crime is condemned to death, via one way or another. It is the ultimate punishment, in which you pay with your life. In most places of the world, this is no longer a punishment, as it has mostly been abandoned as a thing of the past.

However, in the United States, the death penalty is still active in many of the states!
So what about New York? As one of the major states in the country, and one of the most well-known to the rest of the world, you might be curious as to know if it still allows for the death penalty.

We can answer the question, and tell you all sorts of interesting historical facts about the death penalty, specifically in New York. So let’s get right into it!

Does New York have the death penalty?

Nowadays, in the present time, New York does not have the death penalty and does not allow for the death penalty as a legal punishment.
However, New York has indeed had the death penalty in the past.

So let’s talk about when the death penalty was removed.

Basically, in 2004, a previous statute that reinstated the death penalty was declared to be unconstitutional, according to the New York Court of Appeals. And so, the death penalty was removed as a valid form of punishment. From then on, no death penalties were approved.
As for the death penalties that were already in motion, 2007 marked fulfilled the statute, by changing the last remaining death sentence to a life sentence, and so there were no more prisoners left on death row, fully accomplishing the end of the death penalty in New York state.

Furthermore, in 2008, Governor David Paterson, issued an order that requested that all execution equipment be removed, so that there was no longer any death penalty gear left within the state of New York, as an even bigger sign that it was done for good.

The statute continues active nowadays, and the death penalty is completely banned and forbidden within the state of New York. So the maximum level of punishment that can be handed out, is now the life sentence.

History of the death penalty in New York:

New York state used to have the death penalty, but it doesn’t anymore. And if you’re interested in knowing more, here is a quick brief summary of the history of the death penalty in New York:

The origins of the death penalty in New York go all the way back to colonial times. It is worth noting that New York was the state with the second-most executions from 1608 to 1972, Virginia was the first. Most of the executions were by hanging, burning at the stake, firing squad, and some even by the breaking wheel.

Throughout history, the death penalty was abolished and reinstated a few times, as if they couldn’t quite make up their mind about it. In 1860, it was actually abolished by accident, because the legislature repealed hanging as a method of execution, but didn’t provide which methods were acceptable, so they couldn’t carry out death sentences despite them technically being legal!

Anyway, in 1967, they passed a compromise law that allowed for a more limited death penalty, and in 1972 the Supreme Court invalidated all death penalties. However, in 1973, the state of New York rewrote this statute, allowing for a mandatory death penalty for those that murdered a police officer, a correctional officer, or another inmate within the prison.
Between 1978 and 1994, there were measures that either allowed or restricted death penalties, going back and forth and changing the conditions.

In 1995, George Pataki (who was a newly-elected Governor at the time) signed legislation that reinstated the full death penalty in New York, but this time, the new method of execution was the lethal injection.

In 2004 the New York Court of Appeals declared this statute to be unconstitutional, and the death penalty was removed from the legislation.

And that brings us to the present, in which there is no death penalty. IN 2007 the last remaining death sentence was changed to a life sentence, and in 2008 all death penalty equipment was removed from New York state.

As an extra fact, the last death sentence execution in New York state took place in 1963, with Eddie Mays.

Will New York ever have the death penalty again?

As you can see, throughout history the legality of the death penalty has fluctuated. It has been abolished and reinstated several times, and the laws for which the crime was punishable by death sentence have also changed and varied, the rules shifting and changing every so often. So although right now, there is no death penalty in New York state, could it ever return?

In other states of the United States the death penalty is still active, so what’s to stop New York from returning to it?

The truth is, we don’t know. Anything could happen, and there could be a day in which the death penalty makes a comeback in New York. However, we believe that this is highly unlikely, as the death sentence is majorly seen as an immoral punishment, and the controversy of reinstating it in the present day would be far too big. But again, who knows!

Famous death penalty executions in New York:

Just so that you have a few more curious and interesting facts, about the death penalty in New York, and its history, here are some of the most famous death penalty executions that have taken place in this state:

  • William Kemmler (1890): first person to be executed on the electric chair in New York state
  • Leon Czolgosz (1901): electrocuted for the assassination of the US president, William McKinley
  • Charles Bonier (1907): the oldest person to be executed in New York with the electric chair, at 75 years of age.
  • Ruth Snyder (1928): one of the few women executed at Sing Sing, electrocuted for the murder of her husband. A photographer managed to sneak in a small camera, and it is the first known photograph of an electric chair execution.
  • Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (1953): put to death for federal espionage charges, for passing secrets of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. This was quite a controversial conviction, and in 2015 it was declared wrongful.
  • Eddie Mays (1963): last known death sentence execution in new York state

Final thoughts:

New York no longer has the death penalty. However, it has had it in the past, with it being abolished and reinstated several times throughout history.
It was lastly abolished in 2004, by being declared unconstitutional. However, the actual last death sentence execution happened before this abolishment, in 1963. In 2007, the last death sentence was changed to a life sentence, and since 2008 all death sentence equipment within New York state has been disposed of.