The Justice Department announced on Thursday that is it temporarily halting all federal executions to review the policies and procedures for capital punishment.
The story: Attorney General Merrick Garland told senior officials in a memo that the DOJ will stop scheduling federal executions, citing what he said were several points of concern regarding death penalty cases. Among other things, Garland cited its impact on people of color and its capricious application.
The memo: “The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States but is also treated fairly and humanly,” Garland said in a memo issued on Thursday.
“Serious concerns have been raised about the continued use of the death penalty across the country, including arbitrariness in its application, disparate impact on people of color, and the troubling number of exonerations in capital and other serious cases. Those weighty concerns deserve careful study and evaluation by lawmakers,” the memo added.
“The Department must take care to scrupulously maintain our commitment to fairness and humane treatment in the administration of existing federal laws governing capital sentences,” Garland said.
The attorney general gave no timetable. It is unclear how long the review will take.
A spokesperson for the White House, Andrew Bates, said that President Joe Biden “has significant concerns about the death penalty and how it is implemented, and he believes the Department of Justice should return to its prior practice of not carrying out executions.”
Worth noting: No federal executions have been scheduled under the Biden administration. There are currently around 50 people are on federal death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Biden has expressed opposition to the death penalty during his presidential campaign.
“Because we cannot ensure we get death penalty cases right every time, Biden will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example. These individuals should instead serve life sentences without probation or parole,” his campaign website says.
How we got here: Last year, then-Attorney General William Barr revived the federal death penalty after a 17-year-long pause. A total of 13 people, 12 men and one woman, were executed between July 2020 and January 2021.
Barr not only resumed federal execution but also directed the federal prison officials to administer lethal injections that use the drug pentobarbital, replacing the three-drug procedure that came under scrutiny after a botched state execution in Oklahoma.
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