Attorney General Merrick Garland put a hold on federal executions on Thursday as the Justice Department launched an internal probe of its policies on putting criminals to death.
“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 humanely,” Garland said in a statement.
“That obligation has special force in capital cases.”
Garland, who announced the temporary pause, called for a review of policy changes made during the Trump administration that led to the first federal executions in almost two decades, beginning in July 2020.
Under scrutiny is the use of the drug pentobarbital in lethal injections, which Garland said will be investigated for its “risk of pain and suffering.”
The review will also take a look at changes to Justice Department policies made in November 2020 that expanded allowable methods for putting inmates to death and said it was OK if the federal government used state facilities for federal executions.
No one had been executed in 17 years until the change under Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr, but there were 13 federal criminals put to death from last July to January 2021.
That was the most executions during any presidency in 120 years. The last federal execution came days before Trump left office.
Cassandra Stubbs, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project, called the pause a good start in a Tweet – but she called on President Biden to commute all death sentences.
“The federal death penalty is a racist, dehumanizing and deeply flawed system, inconsistent with our values and human dignity,” she said.
Of the 46 people on federal death row, 18 are black, seven are Latino and one is Asian, Reuters reported, citing data from the Death Penalty Information Center.
With Post wires