Justice Dept. Pauses Federal Executions, Reversing Trump Coverage


Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Thursday imposed a moratorium on federal executions pending a Justice Department policy and procedures review, overturning the Trump administration’s decision to halt the executions of federal death row inmates last year after a nearly two decades long hiatus.

“The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only given the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but is treated fairly and humanely,” Garland said in a memo to the Justice division chief. “This obligation is of particular importance in capital cases.”

Mr Garland said in his memo that Assistant Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco would oversee a Justice Department policy review regarding federal executions carried out by former Attorney General William P. Barr. He called for the participation of several divisions of the department, including the Bureau of Prisons, the Criminal Investigation Department, and the Civil Rights Department, along with other federal agencies and outside advocacy groups.

After 17 years without executions, the Justice Department under Mr. Barr began executing federal death row inmates last summer. He argued that the Justice Department of both parties requested the death penalty and that the government “owes the victims and their families to continue the sentence imposed by our judicial system”.

The Trump administration eventually executed 13 people, more than three times the number of people killed by the federal government in the past six decades.

Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said President Biden endorsed Mr. Garland’s decision.

“As the president has made clear, he has serious concerns about the death penalty and its implementation, and he believes the Justice Department should revert to its previous practice of not carrying out executions,” said Bates.

As a candidate, Mr. Biden said he would work to end federal executions and provide an incentive for states to follow suit.

The Supreme Court also said in March that it would review an appeals court’s decision to overturn the death sentence of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was sentenced to death for his role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

Should the Biden government withdraw its support for the death penalty against Mr Tsarnaev, the Supreme Court case would fall.

Mr Garland has asked the Department to review the guidelines implemented over the past two years that paved the way for the resumption of executions at the federal level.