ACLU Finds Serious Flaws in Ashcroft Death Penalty Bias Report, Calls for Independent Review of Federal System

June 14, 2001 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union said today that it has found serious substantive flaws in last week’s controversial report from Attorney General John Ashcroft about racial and geographic bias in the federal death penalty system.

“It’s clear that the Department of Justice has used insufficient data, poor logic, and appalling science to draw a deadly and misleading conclusion,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The fact that 89 percent of the men on federal death row are persons of color, on its own, lends some doubt as to the integrity of the system.”

The ACLU said it was so disturbed by the flaws in the Attorney General’s report that it was purchasing an advertisement in Friday’s issue of The Washington Times to highlight its concerns and to renew its call for a stop to all federal executions until the fairness of the system can be properly discerned by an independent review.

According to the ACLU, the Ashcroft report is insufficient for several reasons, including:

  • It does not take into account the wide discretion given a United States Attorney to decide what crimes will be considered as federal capital cases. This oversight means that the Ashcroft report did not consider all potential federal capital cases and, therefore, did not achieve any level of statistical accuracy.
  • It is impossible to determine from the report if the information provided by the U.S. Attorneys is adequate evidence to back up the report’s conclusion.
  • Given the omission of the raw data used to reach the Report’s conclusions, it is impossible to subject the Report to true critical review.

King said that the ACLU’s analysis demonstrates that the Ashcroft report is also misleading in that it focuses narrowly on one particular point in the federal death penalty system at which racial or geographic disparity is not readily apparent but fails to examine the system as a whole. Therefore, its findings cannot rule out bias at other important points in the system.

“The conclusions of the Ashcroft report are about as secure as those of an engineer determining the stability of a high-rise by examining one lonely rivet,” King said. “The Bush Administration has focused exclusively on the most irrelevant parts of the system and has disregarded the most telling evidence of bias.

“This is a shoddy report. The Administration is obviously looking for political cover so that it can continue federal executions without hassle. But until an independent review can be done, the integrity of American Justice remains in serious question.”

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The Latest in Smart Justice

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About Smart Justice

Smart Justice issue image

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to challenge racism in the criminal legal system.