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Biden Must Immediately Commute Death Row

Biden wants to end the death penalty. His first and most important step must be commuting the sentence of every person on federal death row. 

TERRE HAUTE, INDIANA – JULY 25: Guard towers rise above the grounds of the Federal Correctional Complex Terre Haute on July 25, 2019 in Terre Haute, Indiana. Today U.S. Attorney William Barr announced that the federal government would resume executing prisoners after a two-year hiatus.The first five are scheduled to be executed at the Terre Haute prison between December 9 this year and January 15, 2020. The federal government has executed four prisoners since 1960. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Point

Biden wants to end the death penalty. His first and most important step must be commuting the sentence of every person on federal death row. 

Biden can take immediate action to end the death penalty:   

  • As president, Biden has broad clemency powers and can use them to turn every death sentence into a sentence of incarceration. 
  • Obama’s failure to use his clemency power to commute death row made it possible for Trump to go on a months-long killing spree, resulting in the executions of 13 people. To ensure a future president cannot do the same, Biden must commute death row.
  • Commuting death row is Biden’s first step, but it cannot be his last. Biden must also prohibit federal prosecutors from seeking death sentences in new or pending cases. He must also call upon Congress to pass the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act to end the death penalty once and for all. 

The death penalty is not justice: 

  • The death penalty is not a punishment reserved for “the worst of the worst,” as supporters often argue. Instead, data shows it is primarily wielded by a small set of prosecutors against people who are poor, mentally ill, or have long suffered from abuse, neglect, and trauma.  
  • Racism permeates the death penalty. As a broad coalition led by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights noted in a letter to Biden calling for commutations and the end of the death penalty, “Throughout history, African Americans have been routinely put to death for offenses for which white individuals received lesser punishments, were more likely to be executed as juveniles, and were less likely to have their death sentence convictions reviewed by higher courts than were their white counterparts.”
  • Since 1973, over 170 people have been exonerated while on death row, yet the death penalty—an irreversible act—continues to be used. 
  • Opposition to state-sanctioned killing is growing. Support for the death penalty is at its lowest level since the 1970s. More states are abolishing the death penalty, with Virginia likely becoming the 23rd state to do so. And more prosecutors are pledging not to seek death sentences in any case. 

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