Dozens of nonprofits and other groups on Tuesday urged President Joe Biden to move to end federal executions after 13 were carried out during the Trump administration.
Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and 80 other groups wrote in a letter to the Democrat that Biden should “act on your promise of ensuring equality, equity, and justice in our criminal legal system by immediately commuting the sentences of all individuals under federal sentence of death, and reinstating the federal moratorium on the use of the death penalty.”
“Any criminal legal system truly dedicated to the pursuit of justice should recognize the humanity of all those who come into contact with it, not sanction the use of a discriminatory practice that denies individuals their rights, fails to respect their dignity, and stands in stark contrast to the fundamental values of our democratic system of governance. If we are to truly forge a nation as good as its ideals, the federal government must take swift action to commute the sentences of those currently under federal sentence of death and end the government’s cruel, ineffective, and irreversible use of the death penalty,” they added.
Former President Donald Trump directed the resumption of federal executions in 2019 after a pause approaching two decades. The Department of Justice, by the time Trump left office, had executed 13 convicted criminals, including Keith Nelson, who was convicted of kidnapping, raping, and murdering a 10-year-old girl; Dustin Honken, convicted of murdering five people in Iowa; and Daniel Lee, who killed a couple and their 8-year-old daughter in 1996.
Dustin Higgs, who ordered three women killed in Maryland in 1996, was the final execution, on Jan. 16.
Then-Attorney General William Barr said in 2019 that Congress “has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President.” A court battle ended up at the Supreme Court, which cleared the way for the resumption of executions in June 2020.
Biden, during the campaign, pushed for the abolition of the death penalty, pointing to a database that alleges over 160 people sentenced to death in the United States since 1973 were later exonerated.
“Because we cannot ensure we get death penalty cases right every time, Biden will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example. These individuals should instead serve life sentences without probation or parole,” his campaign website states.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, asked recently about Biden’s plans on following through on the campaign promise, said: “The President has spoken about his opposition to the death penalty in the past, but I don’t have anything to predict for you or preview for you in terms of additional steps.”