Joe Biden grants clemency to 78 people – but no federal death row inmates

Biden ran on an election campaign that he wanted to abolish the federal death penalty and incentivise states to stop executions

Rachel Sharp
Tuesday 26 April 2022 15:47 BST
Joe Biden is yet to fulfill his campaign pledge to end the federal death penalty
Joe Biden is yet to fulfill his campaign pledge to end the federal death penalty (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
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President Joe Biden has granted clemency to 78 people as part of Second Chance Month – but has failed to commute the sentences or pardon any inmates currently awaiting execution on federal death row.

On Tuesday, the president announced that he was granting pardons to three people and commuting the sentences of 75 others who have all made efforts to rehabilitate themselves, such as through educational and vocational training or drug treatment in prison.

This marks the first clemencies issued by Mr Biden in the 15 months since he took office in January 2021.

“America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation. Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect these core values that enable safer and stronger communities,” he said in a statement.

“During Second Chance Month, I am using my authority under the Constitution to uphold those values by pardoning and commuting the sentences of fellow Americans.”

However, the president did not grant clemency to any of the 46 inmates on federal death row – something that he has been facing growing calls to do and which he has the power to do at the stroke of a pen.

Mr Biden ran on an election campaign that he wanted to abolish the federal death penalty and would incentivise states to also halt executions across the US.

“Because we cannot ensure we get death penalty cases right every time, Biden will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example,” his campaign website read.

But, to date, he is yet to take action on this and has not granted clemency to any inmate on federal death row.

So far, his administration has merely issued a moratorium on federal executions, putting the death penalty on pause after Donald Trump resumed executions following a 17-year hiatus and executed 13 inmates in his final months in the White House.

Lawmakers and activists last year urged Mr Biden to follow through with his campaign plegde.

Instead of death row inmates, the three people pardoned on Tuesday include former US Secret Service Agent Abraham Bolden who spent 39 months in prison in the 1960s after he was convicted for trying to sell a copy of a Secret Service file.

Melissa Lucio was granted a stay of execution in Texas on Monday (AP)

Bolden, who was the first Black person to serve on a presidential detail, has long maintained his innocence saying that he was targeted in retaliation for exposing unprofessional and racist behavior within the Secret Service.

The two people other people pardoned were Betty Jo Hogans and Dexter Eugene Jackson who were both convicted of drug-related charges.

The 75 people whose sentences have been commuted were convicted of non-violent drug offences.

The president’s commutations and pardons come one day after Melissa Lucio was granted a stay of execution by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals as her attorneys presented a trove of evidence that they say supports her claims of innocence.

As Lucio is on death row for the state of Texas, her clemency application was sent to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and to Governor Greg Abbott.

After the appeals court issued a stay, the parole board said that it would not grant clemency.

The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to death penalty in the US.. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty - with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.

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