Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday imposed a moratorium on all federal executions amid a review of the Justice Department’s policies.
The announcement comes nearly one year after the beginning of a federal execution spree under former President Donald Trump that critics panned as “out of step” with previous administrations. Between July 2020 and January 2021, the Trump administration executed 13 people, including six during the lame-duck session after President Joe Biden had been elected.
“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 Thursday’s announcement. “That obligation has special force in capital cases.”
The memo states that Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco will lead a review of the previous administration’s policies for administering lethal injection at the federal level.
Those policies were put in place in 2019 when former Attorney General William Barr announced a resumption of federal executions. There had been a hiatus on federal executions since 2003, when the government administered the lethal injection to Louis Jones Jr., who raped and killed Army Pvt. Tracie McBride in 1995.
Barr’s Justice Department faced lawsuits, though, over its plan to use a single drug — pentobarbital — in its lethal injection protocol. Under federal law, the U.S. government must use the same execution method as the state where the crime was committed and most states use a multi-drug cocktail.
Garland ordered the Justice Department to review the risk of pain and suffering associated with the use of just pentobarbital as well as policies allowing other execution methods and expediting executions. As part of the review, the department must consult with federal and state agencies, medical experts and experienced capital counsel.