|The death chamber at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana|
The United States government sought and won a death sentence in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for his role in the Boston Marathon bombing.
However, it is worth remembering something: The government cannot actually execute anyone right now. The Justice Department effectively has a moratorium on executions because it is reviewing the federal death penalty policy.
And even if the review immediately concluded that the federal protocol is fine as it stands, there is still the issue of the actual lethal injection drugs that would be needed for any execution. Federal officials say the Bureau of Prisons does not possess any doses of drugs intended for lethal injections because of this ongoing review, and these drugs are increasingly difficult for authorities to obtain.
“The Department of Justice has been conducting a review of the federal protocol used by the Bureau of Prisons, and has had a moratorium in place on federal executions in the meantime,” Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesman for the department, said in a statement.
Of course, there is likely a long appeals process ahead for Tsarnaev. His attorneys did not speak after he was sentenced, but they are expected to appeal the sentence; this process could be lengthy, which would delay the government actually confronting this issue in the case.
Federal death sentences are not frequently handed down, and inmates who arrive on death row often remain there for a while. There were 61 inmates on federal death row going into Tsarnaev’s sentencing, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. More than half of them were sentenced at least a decade ago, and 10 of them were sentenced before 2000.
It is rare for someone to receive a federal death sentence and even more unusual for that sentence to actually be carried out. Since the federal death penalty statute was reinstated in 1988 and expanded in 1994, three inmates have been put to death by the government, all of them were by lethal injection.
Even when the government does seek a death sentence, judges and juries rarely impose it, having opted for a life sentence in about two-thirds of these trials, according to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project.
The three inmates who have been executed were all put to death more than a decade ago. Timothy McVeigh was executed in 2001 for the Oklahoma City bombing, while Juan Raul Garza was executed a little more than a week later for murdering three men.
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Source: The Washington Post, Mark Berman, May 15, 2015
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