The approved amendment to the “Mode of Federal Executions” rule gives federal prosecutors a greater variety of execution options to avoid delays if the state in which the detainee was convicted does not offer alternative alternatives.
The rule was included among three dozen policy changes President Donald Trump is trying to push through before his term ends. The proposed changes were first reported by ProPublica.
Attorney General William Barr and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs pushed the rule forward. Once the approved amendment is published in the Federal Register – which could arrive as early as Friday, according to a Department of Justice official – it will take effect in 30 days.
Ultimately, this may be moot since President-elect Joe Biden has campaigned to abolish the federal death penalty and four of the five inmates to be executed already have their chosen way – lethal injection.
The Justice Department did not explain why the new rule was adopted.
The proposed amendment, which was released in August, calls for alternative means for federal executions if lethal injection is not available in the state in which a defendant is on death row.
It also suggests that if the state where the crime was committed does not allow the death sentence, a judge can designate another state with those laws and use its facilities to carry out the execution.
But an official from the Department of Justice said that “the federal government will never execute a detainee by firing squad or by electrocution unless the state concerned has itself authorized this method of execution.”
Lawyers involved in death penalty cases have argued that lethal injection use of pentobarbital> violates food, drugs and cosmetics law and subjects a detainee to> condition where the liquid floods quickly the lungs, according to court documents.
These arguments were dismissed by the Supreme Court and a federal judge, who ruled that it was not “certain” or “probable” that such an event could occur if lethal injection was used and it was does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation of “cruel and unusual punishment”, according to court documents.
Earlier this year, Oklahoma resumed executions after a 2015 incident where Clayton Lockett, a death row inmate, was given the wrong drug for the murderous execution. Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after receiving the injection, according to previous reports.
There are 28 states that allow federal and state executions, and lethal injection is the primary mode of execution. At least nine of those states allow alternative methods such as electrocution, lethal gas, firing squad, and hanging. Hangings were not mentioned in the amended rule.
“No one on federal death row has committed the offense in a state that uses the firing squad to execute prisoners,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Sentencing Information Center, said on Twitter Thursday. of death.
When the Justice Department rule is released for future death penalty cases, prosecutors could ask the judge to transfer the case to another state such as Oklahoma, Utah or Mississippi, where the platoons of execution are allowed.
Barr announced the schedule for the last three death row before Biden was sworn in on Nov. 20, and two are due next month. If all the executions scheduled since July are completed, the Trump administration will have killed the most federal inmates in a presidential transition since 1884, Dunham told CNN on Monday.
Four of the inmates, including Brandon Bernard – the youngest in the United States to be sentenced to death for a crime he committed as a teenager – and Lisa Montgomery – the only woman sentenced to death federally, reportedly the first to be executed in almost 70 years – should receive the lethal injection.
Montgomery was granted a stay of execution until Dec. 31 after his lawyers were diagnosed with the coronavirus. Its execution date is set for January 12.
The Trump administration has rejected Montgomery’s request for a stay. Bernard’s latest request to stay his execution was rejected by the Supreme Court last week.
Dustin Higgs, who in 2000 was the first person in Maryland to be sentenced to federal death row, has no specific mode of execution. Higgs’ attorney did not return a request for comment.
There are currently 54 people in the Federal District of Death. Bernard is the next performance scheduled for December 10.