The Trump administration has recently accelerated the pace of federal executions, planning to put five inmates to death before Inauguration Day.
According to the Associated Press, if each case moves forward as scheduled, President Donald J. Trump would “cement” his “legacy as the most prolific execution president in over 130 years.”
Anti-death penalty groups have condemned the administration’s decision to continue executing people after the Nov. 3 election, which the president has not conceded. Criminal justice reform advocates have called on Joe Biden to demand the executions stop.
There are currently 56 prisoners on federal death row. Brandon Bernard, 40, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Thursday. However, five of the nine surviving jurors have asked President Trump to commute his sentence to life in prison. They urged the president to consider that Bernard was a teenager at the time of his crimes and said he had inadequate legal representation during the trial.
A federal inmate named Brandon Bernard is scheduled to be executed next week for a 1999 double murder. Bernard is now seeking clemency, as new details emerge about his case.@DavidBegnaud spoke to a juror about why he regrets sentencing a teenager to death. pic.twitter.com/icAnx843vQ
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) December 3, 2020
Biden said he would push to eliminate federal executions if elected and create incentives for states to do the same. He has expressed regret for a 1994 crime bill he co-authored that, in part, expanded the types of crimes eligible for the death sentence to include offenses like kidnappings and carjackings.
The Justice Department reinstated capital punishment in July after a 17-year hiatus. Some Trump critics questioned the timing, which came after several American cities had experienced episodes of civil unrest with an election just months away. They accused him of politicizing the issue to back up his tough-on-crime bona fides. Since then, eight incarcerated people have been killed by lethal injection.
“I think the way to stop the death penalty is to repeal the death penalty,” said Attorney General William Barr in a recent interview with the AP. “But if you ask juries to impose and juries impose it, then it should be carried out.”
Barr has previously said the government has a duty to carry out the punishments, arguing they sometimes provide closure to those affected by the crimes committed.
Death row inmates Alfred Bourgeois, Cory Johnson, and Dustin John Higgs are also scheduled to be put to death before January 20, along with Lisa Montgomery, who would be the first woman executed by the U.S. government in almost 70 years.
#USA: UN experts call for clemency for #LisaMontgomery who is scheduled to be executed in January 2021. Serious concerns that she received inadequate legal assistance and her previous trauma & mental health were not adequately considered.
— UN Special Procedures (@UN_SPExperts) December 3, 2020
As the AP reports, “the expectation is that Biden will end the Trump administration’s policy of carrying out executions as quickly as the law allows,” and:
Trump has been a consistent supporter of the death penalty. In a 1990 Playboy interview, he described himself as a strong supporter of capital punishment, saying, “Either it will be brought back swiftly or our society will rot away.” …
Many states with death penalty laws have halted executions over concerns that the rampant spread of the coronavirus in prisons would put lawyers, witnesses and executioners at too great a risk. Largely as a consequence of the health precautions, states have executed just seven prisoners in the first half of the year and none since July. Last year, states carried out a combined 22 executions…
As president, Biden could seek to persuade Congress to abolish the federal death penalty or simply invoke his commutation powers to single-handedly convert all death sentences to life-in-prison terms.
Attorney General Barr told the AP he does not believe capital punishment is a political issue, noting that federal authorities pursued death sentences under President Barack Obama but never carried them out.
All federal executions take place at a U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. The Bureau of Prisons switched to a single-drug lethal injection when federal executions resumed over the summer. Officials had previously used a three-drug combination. Last month, the Justice Department changed its protocols to expand possible execution methods to include electrocution, gas, and firing squads.
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