Should the federal government be able to carry out the death penalty? | The Tylt
Should the federal government be able to carry out the death penalty?
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the federal death penalty applies in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Notably, capital punishment is rarely used on the federal level, with the last execution taking place in 2003.
According to CNN, Barr's announcement follows an inquiry from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who asked the Bureau of Prisons to explore how the organization might resume federal executions after hold up stemming from a review of lethal injection drugs.
Per CNN's Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez, the Justice Department identified five inmates on federal death row who have exhausted the appeals process, and Barr's announcement marks the next step in the justice system:
In his statement, Barr said the government was moving to seek justice against the "worst criminals" and bring relief to victims and family members.
Not only has the death penalty largely fallen out of favor with the public, but many people believe that the decision to move forward with an execution lies with states and states alone. Per the National Conference of State Legislatures, capital punishment is authorized in 29 states, by the U.S. military and the federal government. This means that in nearly half the country, the death penalty is not on the table on a state level, yet it could still be a viable option at the federal level, depending on the crime. The Death Penalty Information Center points out:
The use of the federal death penalty in jurisdictions that have themselves opted not to have capital punishment—such as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and many states—has raised particular concerns about federal overreach into state matters.
"This is counter to the national trend," said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes capital punishment. "The death penalty is disappearing from whole sections of the country and eroding in others."
Capital punishment is not taken lightly on the state level or the federal level. According to the New York Times' Katie Benner, prosecutors might seek the death penalty in federal cases, which is why 60 inmates are currently on federal death row:
...including for Dylann S. Roof, an avowed white supremacist who gunned down nine African-American churchgoers in 2015, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber.
In his statement, Barr points out the federal death penalty applies to only the "worst criminals." And according to the DPIC, only three federal executions have taken place since 1988.
Between the reinstatement of the federal death penalty in 1988 and 2018, 78 defendants have been sentenced to death, of whom 3 have been executed and 12 have been removed from death row.
With pressure building to replace the capital punishment with life in prison, 21 states have outlawed the death penalty.
According to the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of Americans support the death penalty, but per Benner's reporting, many civil rights advocates categorically disapprove of the death penalty at the state and federal level, arguing that it is a human rights violation.
By putting federal capital punishment back in the spotlight, Barr refocused the country on the question of the death penalty altogether. Many would like to see states do away with the practice, making Barr's announcement particularly egregious.