Merrick Garland says he has 'great' concern about federal use of the death penalty, which surged under Trump
WASHINGTON - Merrick Garland told a Senate committee weighing his attorney general confirmation that he expected a new moratorium on federal executions to be imposed.
Garland said he was "very concerned" about the federal government's use of the death penalty, which dramatically resumed executions during the Trump administration.
13 federal inmates were executed in the final months of the Trump administration.
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More: Even if COVID-19 slows the judicial system, for the first time there are more federal enforcements than all states combined
Garland said the continued exonerations of the wrongly convicted had given him "break" and quoted President Joe Biden's strong opposition to the death penalty.
"A terrible thing happens when someone is executed for a crime they did not commit," Garland said.
More: Trump's execution frenzy reflects the death penalty system, which is "shaped by racial prejudice," critics say
Dramatic resumption of federal executions
The federal government executed 10 people last year and three more people in January, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Federal death sentences passed under Trump since 2020 are higher than the past 56 years combined, reducing the number of federal death row prisoners by nearly a quarter. It is likely that none of the 50 or so remaining men will be executed anytime soon. Biden signals that he will stop federal executions.
Since the dwindling days of Grover Cleveland's presidency in the late 19th century, the US government has not executed any federal inmates during a change of presidency, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Cleveland's was also the last presidency to see double digits in one year, 1896, of federal civilians executed during Cleveland's second term.
Lisa Montgomery, 52, was executed by lethal injection in the U.S. prison in Terre Haute, Indiana on Wednesday, January 13, 2021.
The annual report released by the center in December 2020 found that the federal government has dramatically revived the use of the death penalty after a 17-year hiatus. Among those executed was Lisa Montgomery, the first woman to be killed by the United States in 67 years. She died on January 13, and two more were executed within days of Biden's inauguration.
The escalation of executions by the Trump administration highlights longstanding inequalities in a criminal justice system that continues to disproportionately treat black prisoners as the worst of the worst criminals, experts and supporters of the death penalty say.
While the nation counts on race and criminal justice issues following the police deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, the Trump administration has executed black prisoners who claimed their death sentences were made possible due to racial prejudice and prosecutorial misconduct - issues that their lawyers said were never meaningfully investigated before receiving the final sentence.
"The enforcement of death sentences, so clearly marked by racial prejudice, ignores and in some ways violates the growing recognition of the people of this country that the legal system has not been fair to people of minority races," he told Robert Owen, the Brandon Bernard represented, was executed on December 10, 2020.
Contributor: Kristine Phillips, Associated Press
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Merrick Garland: The moratorium on the US death penalty is expected to resume
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