US Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered a temporary halt on federal executions on Thursday (July 1), according to a memo to senior officials at the DOJ. Garland noted in the memo statistics about the disproportionate number of Black people who are sentenced to death, and a number of people who were posthumously exonerated of crimes after being executed by the government.
“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 wrote.
“That obligation has special force in capital cases. 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.”
In the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency, 13 people, most of whom were Black, were executed by the US government. The wave of executions came after a decades-long hiatus on federal executions and took place in the transition period before Joe Biden took office. A total of 17 people were executed in the US in 2020 by states and the federal government.
Garland’s memo directs Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco to conduct a thorough review of recent policy changes related to capital punishment. Monaco is to meet with stakeholders from several groups, including medical and legal experts in her review.