ACLU Says Moratorium, Not 'More Study' Needed to Address Bias in Federal Death Penalty Sentencing

September 13, 2000 12:00 am

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


WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice’s findings from its review of the federal death penalty confirms what the American Civil Liberties Union and other death penalty opponents have long known: that there is serious bias in the application of the death penalty at the federal level.

It is clear from the Justice Department report that people of color are disproportionately caught up in the web of the federal death penalty. The report raises as many questions as it answers and, as Attorney General Reno has suggested, requires further study and analysis.

But the bottom-line is this: if the Attorney General herself is troubled by the findings in this report and has no explanation for these persistent disparities, that is reason enough to suspend efforts to seek and impose death sentences by federal prosecutors until we are sure that race and ethnicity are not tainting decisions in these cases at a very fundamental level.

As the report documents, between 1988 and 2000 most of those facing federal capital prosecutions have been either African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or of Pacific Island origin. Of the 19 people currently sentenced to death under federal law 15 are people of color, 13 are African American.

While the federal government does not yet rival the states in terms of the sheer numbers of death sentences sought and obtained, it far exceeds the states in the degree to which people of color are subjected to the death penalty.

It used to be that the federal government was the standard-bearer for assuring equality under the law. The Justice Department study sets a new low in an area of criminal justice where, for many, there are no second chances.

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.