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Federal executions halted by Justice Department

Attorney General Merrick Garland said he was imposing a moratorium while the Justice Department conducts a review of its policies and procedures.
Credit: AP
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks about voting rights at the Justice Department in Washington, on Friday, June 11, 2021. (Tom Brenner/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is halting federal executions after a historic use of capital punishment by the Trump administration, which carried out 13 executions in six months.

Attorney General Merrick Garland made the announcement Thursday night, saying he was imposing a moratorium on federal executions while the Justice Department conducts a review of its policies and procedures.

"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. “That obligation has special force in capital cases.”

Donald Trump’s Justice Department resumed federal executions in July, following a 17-year hiatus. No president in more than 120 years had overseen as many federal executions.

The last inmate to be executed, Dustin Higgs, was put to death at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, less than a week before Trump left office.

President Joe Biden has said he opposes the death penalty and his team vowed that he would take action to stop its use while in office.

But the issue is an uncomfortable one for Biden. As a then-proponent of the death penalty, he helped craft 1994 laws that added 60 federal crimes for which someone could be put to death, including kidnappings during which someone dies. He later conceded the laws disproportionately impacted Black people.