Amid the Joe Biden administration’s broad rethinking of capital punishment, the Justice Department has moved to withdraw the capital punishment requests in seven federally prosecuted murder cases around the country, possibly signaling a move toward ending the practice at the federal level, reports the New York Times. While Attorney General Merrick Garland had already ordered a review of the way death sentences are carried out, the decision not to seek the death penalty in cases where it had already been authorized goes further, taking capital punishment off the table in cases that are still being prosecuted.
Garland, who as attorney general has the final say on whether to seek capital punishment in a federal prosecution, has also not personally authorized the death penalty in any case since he assumed office in March. In a recent memorandum announcing the moratorium, Garland noted concerns about the death penalty, including its disparate impact on people of color and the troubling number of exonerations, and all but encouraged Congress to review the issue. Meanwhile, lawyers are still waiting for responses to their requests for de-authorization of the death penalty in their clients’ cases for reasons such as intellectual deficits and disabilities as the withdrawal of death penalty authorizations and the absence of new cases under Garland has raised hope among death penalty lawyers and others that the administration’s approach to the highly divisive issue could signal a new policy on capital punishment.