US Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered a temporary stop on the scheduling of any federal executions over growing concerns regarding the fair treatment of inmates, a release from the US Department of Justice has revealed.
A late Thursday statement from the DoJ indicated that the moratorium on federal executions will remain for the duration of an ongoing review into the department's policies and procedures on the matter.
The review will specifically look into changes enforced under the Trump administration's reimplementation of capital punishment, such as the effects of using the lethal drug pentobarbital and practices to expedite capital sentences.
“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 a memo to senior officials. “That obligation has special force in capital cases.”
"Serious concerns have been raised about the continued use of the death penalty across the country, including arbitrariness in its application, disparate impact on people of color, and the troubling number of exonerations in capital and other serious cases," he continued.
"Those weighty concerns deserve careful study and evaluation by lawmakers."
The release notes that the review will be conducted in coordination with a "wide range of stakeholders" from medical experts to federal and state agencies, among other officials and organizations.
It remains unclear whether the directive will see a full ban against the death penalty in criminal cases.
An official familiar with the developments told ABC News that the directive is unlikely to impact the case of Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, whose death sentence was overturned in 2020 by the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals. The DoJ has called on the US Supreme Court to reinstate the penalty.
The Trump White House resumed federal executions in July 2020 after the US Supreme Court cleared a lower court decision barring the administration's efforts on the grounds that new federal lethal injection protocols posed an unacceptable risk to inmates.
The first inmate to be administered the deadly dose of pentobarbital was Daniel Lee, who had been charged with the 1996 murder of an Arkansas family. Lee's final words were that he was innocent, and that he was in another part of the US when the killings took place.
Approximately 13 federal executions were carried out under the Trump administration, some of which were conducted just days before former US President Donald Trump left the White House. Prior to Trump, the US had a 17-year moratorium on capital punishment.