U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday issued a memorandum that imposes a moratorium on federal executions.
“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.”
Executions will be put on hold while a review of the Justice Department’s policies and procedures takes place.
Federal executions were largely halted for nearly two decades until former Attorney General William Barr changed policies and allowed executions to move forward with a single drug, pentobarbital.
Federal executions resumed in July 2020.
Later that year, the former administration expanded permissible methods of execution.
Garland wrote in a memo on Thursday that “serious concerns” had been raised about the continued use of the death penalty, including arbitrariness in application, disparate effects on people of color and a “troubling” number of exonerations in capital cases.
The review will assess the risk of pain and suffering associated with pentobarbital, permissible methods of executions beyond injections and the capital case provisions.
In 2020 the federal government carried out 10 executions, which is more than all U.S. states combined, according to a report from the Death Penalty Information Center.
Altogether there were 13 federal executions carried out during the final months of the former administration.
Biden vowed to eliminate the death penalty on the campaign trail. However, a 1994 bill he helped write as a sitting senator –The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act – expanded death penalty eligibility to additional crimes.
More than 20 states have abolished the death penalty.