“Justice Department standards on federal death penalty called confusing,” was the headline in a recent Washington Post article. The paper interviewed federal defense lawyers and legislators about President Biden’s and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s inconsistent policy on the issue of the death penalty and the cases in which the DOJ decides to seek it. The paper notes that “Garland has deauthorized 25 death penalty cases that were started under previous administrations, and the Justice Department has not authorized any new capital cases since he took over in 2021,” but has also backed the death sentences of both Dylann Roof, convicted in the Charleston church killings and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted of the Boston Marathon bombings. In addition, the Post reports, seven federal capital cases remain active, including that of Sayfullo Saipov, convicted last month of killing eight pedestrians on a Manhattan bike in 2017. The sentencing phase of his trial is ongoing.
“Speaking as a business leader, a proud, lifetime Tennessean and a human being, it’s time for the state to abolish capital punishment,” Mac Bertin writes in a Knox News guest editorial https://bit.ly/3X0RWzH, “State’s death penalty problems don’t end at lethal injection.” Pointing to a recent report https://bit.ly/3HAJilB by an outside law firm tasked with conducting an independent investigation into the Tennessee Department of Corrections execution process, specifically its lethal injection chemicals, that was unsparingly critical of the entire execution protocol, Bertin writes that, “The report proved what we have known for years — that the death penalty has no place in our society.”
In their editorial https://bit.ly/3Yq0Vvb in City & State Florida, “Florida shouldn’t be different when it comes to the death penalty'” Melanie Kalmanson and Maria DeLiberato argue that recently-introduced legislation that would reduce the jury vote required for a death sentence from unanimous to an 8-4 majority, “will make Florida an extreme outlier, undermines reliability and confidence in the capital sentencing process, and threatens the finality of all death penalty cases, which ultimately affects victims.” The legislation was proposed in the wake of an October jury verdict in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting trial in which three members of the jury voted against a death sentence, resulting in defendant Nikolas Cruz being sentenced to life in prison instead.
Our nation’s federal courts are overwhelmingly presided over by former federal prosecutors, Kara Hartzler reports in her article, “Put a Public Defender On the Ninth Circuit,” in Balls and Strikes. According to Hartzler, the 104-year-old Ninth Circuit of Appeals, which handles far more federal appeals than any other federal appeals court, has never had a public defender among its rank of judges. “By contrast, 46 of the judges in its history—nearly 40 percent—have been prosecutors or worked for law enforcement,” she says. “With a 51-49 Democratic majority in the Senate, Biden now has two years and a clear majority on the Judiciary Committee to make good on his promises,” to diversify the federal judiciary.