THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
December 7, 2000
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT
Today I have decided to stay the execution of Juan Raul Garza, an
inmate on federal death row, for six months, until June, 2001, to allow the
Justice Department time to gather and properly analyze more information
about racial and geographic disparities in the federal death penalty
I believe that the death penalty is appropriate for the most heinous
crimes. As President, I have signed federal legislation that authorizes it
under certain circumstances. It is clearly, however, an issue of the most
serious weight. The penalty of death, as Justice Potter Stewart and
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor have reminded us, is "qualitatively different"
from other punishments we impose. Whether one supports the death penalty
or opposes it, there should be no question that the gravity and finality of
the penalty demand that we be certain that when it is imposed, it is
As I have said before, supporters of capital punishment bear a special
responsibility to ensure the fairness of this irreversible punishment.
Further, Article II of the Constitution vests in the President the sole
authority to grant pardons and reprieves for federal crimes. Therefore, I
have approached this matter with great deliberation.
This Fall, the Department of Justice released the results of a
statistical survey of the federal death penalty. It found that minority
defendants, and certain geographic districts, are disproportionately
represented in federal death penalty prosecutions. As the Deputy Attorney
General said at the time the survey was released, no one confronted with
those statistics can help but be troubled by those disparities. We do not,
however, fully understand what lies behind those statistics. The Attorney
General has said that more information and a broader analysis are needed to
better interpret the data we now have and to determine whether the
disparities that are evident reflect any bias in our system. She has
undertaken an effort to gather and analyze the relevant information, so
than an appropriate decision can be made on the question of bias.
After a close and careful review of this issue, and after conferring
with the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General, I am not
satisfied that, given the uncertainty that exists, it is appropriate to go
forward with an execution in a case that may implicate the very issues at
the center of that uncertainty.
In issuing this stay, I have not decided that the death penalty should
not be imposed in this case, in which heinous crimes were proved. Nor have
I decided to halt all executions in the federal system. I have simply
concluded that the examination of possible racial and regional bias should
be completed before the United States goes forward with an execution in a
case that may implicate the very questions raised by the Justice
Department's continuing study. In this area there is no room for error.
I have asked that the Attorney General report to the President by the
end of April 2001 on the Justice Department's analysis of the racial and
geographic disparities in federal death penalty prosecutions.