A U.S. judge on Monday ordered a delay in federal executions, hours before one was to be carried out for the first time in 17 years, hampering the Trump administration’s plan to revive capital punishment by the federal government.
Washington district Judge Tanya Chutkan issued a preliminary injunction to allow the continuation of legal challenges of four death row inmates against the government’s new lethal injection protocol announced last year.
“The public is not served by short-circuiting legitimate judicial processes,” she wrote in an order.
The Department of Justice immediately appealed the ruling.
The department planned to carry out the first executions at a federal level since 2003 over the next few weeks, starting with Daniel Lewis Lee, who is convicted of murder, in the US state of Indiana on Monday.
The move has been mired in legal battles. Chutkan’s order came just hours after a federal appeals court had overturned a lower court’s ruling halting Monday’s execution over coronavirus concerns.
Attorney General William Barr last summer announced he was bringing back the death penalty, of which President Donald Trump has been a long-time vocal advocate.
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U.S. states individually decide whether to use capital punishment in their criminal justice systems. The federal system is separate to those of the 50 states and other jurisdictions.
Some 20 states have banned the death penalty, while others have not carried out executions in decades.
Part of the legal challenge to the use of the death penalty at the federal level relates to appeals over the protocol of execution, which is lethal injection.