The Biden administration supports the death penalty
Although Biden's campaign promised to "eliminate the death penalty," his administration told a court in a case last week that AG Merrick Garland "has decided to continue to seek the death penalty."
During his 2020 presidential campaign, now-President Joe Biden said he opposed the death penalty and pledged to “eliminate” it.
This past week, however, his administration told a federal court that it’s doing the opposite — seeking to add to death row.
On Friday, Sept. 16, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed a one-page notice in a pending capital case for Sayfullo Saipov, the man accused in the October 2017 terror attack along a bike path in Manhattan that killed 8 and injured many more.
In its key sentence, the DOJ notice stated: “We were notified today that the Attorney General has decided to continue to seek the death penalty.”
Despite the campaign pledge from Biden, there was basically silence from the administration on the issue of the death penalty in his first six months in office.
Then, in July 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a moratorium on executions pending a review of execution procedures — echoing a DOJ policy during then-President Barrack Obama’s administration.
The administration has done little since to “eliminate the death penalty,” and Garland’s decision in Saipov’s case does the opposite.
As everyone who’s been paying attention — and, in particular, former Obama administration staffers — learned during the Trump administration, a moratorium on executions means nothing if you’re keeping — and adding people — to death row.
The Trump administration, primarily during Bill Barr’s tenure at the head of the Justice Department, executed 13 people. Notably, when the Associated Press reported on the final execution of the Trump administration, it stated that the 13th execution came “just five days before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden — an opponent of the federal death penalty.”
One of the people who most closely tracks the death penalty across the country, Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told Law Dork that this news shows — at the least — a disconnect between the White House and Justice Department.
“The Department of Justice’s pursuit of the death penalty in this case — along with the its continued defense of the death penalty in other cases on appeal — indicates that, if the White House has a policy of working to end the federal death penalty, the Department of Justice certainly isn’t acting on it,” Dunham told Law Dork.
Garland — in cases involving Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s 2013 Boston Marathon bombing death sentence and Dylann Roof’s death sentence for 2015 murder of nine Black people at a Charleston church — has supported previously issued death sentences in court, but Saipov’s case would be the first trial of the Biden administration where the federal government is seeking to impose a new death sentence.
To be clear, Garland did not initially make the decision to seek death in this case. That was done in the Trump administration, under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But, in the aftermath of Biden’s election and Garland’s execution moratorium, there was a request from Saipov that DOJ withdraw its intent to seek the death penalty in his case.
That had gone unanswered until now — in the aftermath of questions raised by Saipov’s lawyers in late August about information only recently turned over the the defense team (an issue still unresolved) and less than a month until jury selection is supposed to begin in Saipov’s trial.
Law Dork, with Chris Geidner, is independent, reader-supported journalism that seeks to hold government and other public officials accountable. Support this reporting by becoming a free or paid subscriber today.
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