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September 20, 2022

Noting that the Biden Administration in a high-profile case "has decided to continue to seek the death penalty"

Chris Geidner has this new Substack posting, titled "The Biden administration supports the death penalty," that effectively flags a notable new capital case filing by the Biden Administration's Department of Justice.  The subheadline of the piece summarizes the key points:  "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'."  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

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.”...

[I]n 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....

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.

September 20, 2022 at 08:43 AM | Permalink


There is no “disconnect” at all between the Biden Administration and the DOJ. The White House knows that the last thing they need to do less than two months from an election is to remind the voters how soft on crime they are, even terrorists.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Sep 20, 2022 10:53:27 AM

Seeking the DP and actually executing anyone are two very different things. The second generally comes well after the first -- easily enough time for Biden to be out of office. So he gets to play both ends to the middle: He doesn't have to bear the political cost of formally tanking the DP (as TarlsQtr notes), but keeps his pro-criminal backers happy enough by never actually going through with it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 20, 2022 12:23:45 PM

I agree that the balance Biden has struck is likely gainful politically and would add that this sort of balance probably also reflects public attitudes re capital punishment: seeking death sentences is a satisfying exercise in denunciation of abhorrent conduct, but, as Bill notes, actually executing someone is a different matter, and, I'd add, one that most people are probably fine to do without.

Posted by: John | Sep 20, 2022 1:13:09 PM

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