BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — New York State does not have the death penalty, but the federal government does. Some of the federal charges the Tops mass shooting suspect may face carry that punishment.
"If they become an indictment, and the indictment is prosecuted successfully, it could be death penalty charges. The death penalty would be established ahead of time before the case ever went to court because it has to be established via the death penalty unit in the Justice Department of DC. It's not determined at the local level. It's determined at the national level," Christopher Belling, an attorney, said.
Belling said it's a toss up if the federal government will put the death penalty on the table.
"Both the Attorney General and the President have indicated that they're not big death penalty proponents. But they've also indicated that in the right case, they could apply the law that exists. So the question is, is this the right case? And if this isn't the right case, what is?" Belling said.
Belling said a committee in Washington D.C. determines if the suspect will face the death penalty, but the opinions of others are taken into consideration.
The Attorney General met with victims' families Wednesday, and he said the death penalty was a topic of conversation.
"If you have the actual survivors, the ten people, their families that are surviving from the people that died in this event, and they express opposition to the death penalty, I think that would be significant. It would carry some weight in making the determination," Belling said.
The Death Penalty Information Center said 79 defendants have been sentenced to death since the punishment was reinstated federally in 1976. 16 have been executed since then. Not one individual, either on death row or who has been put to death, is from New York State.
But the process between being sentenced to death and when execution actually happens can take decades.
"It's just a process of appeal upon appeal upon appeal," Belling said.
The Death Penalty Information Center said one sentenced to death can appeal as a matter of right to the Court of Appeals for the circuit where the case was tried.
After the appeal, the death-row prisoner can also ask the trial court that imposed the death penalty to review the constitutionality of the conviction and sentence.
Death-row inmates can also appeal their conviction to the Supreme Court of the United States, but the Court must agree to hear the case, or it won't take it.
The President can also grant pardon to a death row prisoner.
Belling said the multiple rounds of appeals are exhausted to make sure an innocent individual is not put to death.
"So that no stone is left un-turned in a death penalty case. It's obviously important. There have been instances, I'm sure, where the wrong people have been executed. That's the absolute antithesis of the way the criminal justice system is supposed to work," Bellings said.