Yesterday we asked people to write President-elect Obama through a form on his new transition website to tell him that he should issue an executive order soon after taking office to establish a moratorium on federal executions and directing the Justice Department to establish new rules to protect innocent people from execution, for instance by having the federal government not seek the death penalty in any prosecutions during his term in office and to use federal money to better fund state-level innocence protection programs.
Now, a coalition of more than 20 organizations and individuals, coordinated by the Constitution Project, have announced the publication of a catalogue of key criminal justice issues and policy recommendations for the next administration and congress. Visit their website here. Their recommendations include steps to reform the federal death penalty. They recommend that Obama “stay all federal executions and place a moratorium on federal capital charges pending an independent study of the death penalty system that examines racial disparities, prejudicial errors, adequacy of legal representation, and other inequities in capital prosecutions.”
Since 1988, approximately 73% of all approved capital prosecutions have been against defendants of color, and white federal defendants are almost twice as likely as defendants of color to have the death penalty reduced to life sentences through plea bargains. The U.S. Department of Justice’s own study reveals that over 40% of all requests for capital prosecutions came from only 5 of the 94 federal districts. The failure to address this pervasively unequal application of the death penalty sends an unacceptable message that the value of a defendant’s life falls along racial lines.