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Attorney General Donovan Urges Biden-Harris Administration to End the Federal Death Penalty

January 26, 2021

Joins Nearly 100 Criminal Justice Leaders in Calling for Urgent Action

Contact: Charity R. Clark, Chief of Staff, 802-828-3171

Attorney General T.J. Donovan has joined nearly 100 criminal justice leaders in urging President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to take all actions within their power to immediately and definitively end the death penalty in the United States. In a letter sent yesterday, the coalition urges the new administration to take multifaceted and lasting steps that future administrations cannot readily undo, including: commuting the sentences of all those on federal death row and withdrawing current death penalty warrants, dismantling the death chamber at Terre Haute, encouraging Department of Justice leadership to instruct all federal prosecutors to not seek the death penalty in future cases, supporting and incentivizing state efforts to end capital punishment, and supporting legislation to end the federal death penalty.

“There is no justice in state-sanctioned killings,” said Attorney General Donovan. “I am opposed to the death penalty and I am asking President Biden to end this archaic, inhumane, and failed institution once and for all.”

The United States was one of only 20 countries, and the only developed Western democracy, to use the death penalty in 2019 – and is far more likely to impose the punishment in cases involving Black defendants or white victims. Since 1973, at least 174 people on death row have been exonerated, while the National Academy of Sciences estimates that over 4 percent of death row prisoners are innocent.

After the Trump administration rushed to execute 13 people in its last six months in office, putting countless additional lives in danger as a COVID-19 outbreak took over federal death row, the coalition made clear in their letter that a moratorium is insufficient to end our nation’s use of the death penalty: “[A]t a time when racial injustice, trust in law enforcement, and our nation’s reputation in the eyes of the world are all in dire need of repair, anything short of these steps would fail to move our nation forward or attend to these pressing crises. We should not leave the lives of all people still on federal death row — and many more who will become entangled with the federal system — in the hands of future administrations.”

A copy of the letter including the full list of signatories is available here.