Last night, July 1st, 2021, the United States Department of Justice (US DOJ) announced they are halting federal executions after a historic use of capital punishment by the Trump administration, which carried out 13 executions in six months. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday night, saying he was imposing a moratorium on federal executions while the US DOJ conducts a review of its policies and procedures. While this is welcome news, there are still a few more things to add to the list.
President Biden should commute all federal death sentences and the US DOJ should end federal capital prosecutions.
President Biden and the Department of Justice have the power to fix this urgent problem. Biden can and should immediately commute all 45 federal death sentences. The DOJ can and should agree not to pursue any new death penalty prosecutions, withdraw the execution regulations the Trump Administration adopted, and rescind changes aimed to speed up the capital case proceedings and executions.
A moratorium on federal executions is not enough.
The Obama Administration’s moratorium on executions paved the way for the unprecedented bloodbath that Donald Trump and William Barr carried out. A moratorium does nothing to redress either the horrors of these executions or the excesses or inequities in the federal system that lead to death sentences. Instead, a moratorium only prolongs the traumatic limbo that victims’ family members and prisoners’ family members endure due to the capital punishment system.
By commuting all federal death sentences, President Biden will show leadership on this issue that will help fulfill his promise of incentivizing the states to end the use of the death penalty.
The Trump executions showed the States that the Supreme Court will not block the use of any execution method, no matter how problematic, and will lift execution stays imposed by lower courts that would allow persons like Ernest Johnson to litigate serious claims of intellectual disability, prosecutorial misconduct, and other serious flaws in convictions and death sentences.
There is widespread support for these actions from across the political spectrum.
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Equal Justice USA is working with several other organizations to collect signatures and deliver them to President Biden, including The Innocence Project, 8th Amendment Project, Witness to Innocence, ACLU, The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and Death Penalty Focus.