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US Government Faces Criticism On Resuming The Death Penalty

The US federal government’s move to resume executions after a 16-year hiatus has drawn sharp criticism from rights groups and leading Democrats.

Several candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination called for the death penalty to be abolished.

On Thursday Attorney General William Barr said five inmates would be executed. They had been convicted of murders or rapes of children or the elderly, he said. The executions have been scheduled for December 2019 and January 2020.

“Under administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals,” Mr Barr said in a statement. “The Justice Department upholds the rule of law – and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

Mr Barr’s announcement lifts what was an informal moratorium on the federal death penalty – as opposed to state-directed executions – since the 2003 execution of Louis Jones Jr, a 53-year-old a Gulf War veteran who murdered 19-year-old soldier Tracie Joy McBride.

Under the US justice system, crimes can be tried either in federal courts or state courts, at a regional level. Certain crimes that apply nationally, such as counterfeiting currency or mail theft, are automatically tried at a federal level, while others are tried in federal courts based on the severity of the crimes.

The death penalty was outlawed at state and federal level by a 1972 Supreme Court decision that cancelled all existing death penalty statutes. Four years later, a Supreme Court decision reinstated the death penalty to a number of states and in 1988 the government passed legislation that made the death penalty available again at a federal level.

According to data collected by the Death Penalty Information Center, 78 people were sentenced to death in federal cases between 1988 and 2018 but only three have since been executed, the last one in 2003. There are 62 inmates currently on federal death row.

They include Dylann Roof who murdered nine people in a Charleston church in 2015, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Capital Punishment In The US

The death penalty is a legal punishment in 29 US states
Since 1976, Texas has carried out the most executions (561), followed by Virginia (113) and Oklahoma (112)
There are 2,673 inmates on death row in the US
California has the most prisoners on death row – 733 – but has carried out only 13 executions since 1976
The annual number of death sentences fell by 85% between 1998 and 2018 – from 295 to 43