THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
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 system.
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 imposed fairly.
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.