BBC, Feb. 6, 2003
By Emma Simpson
US Attorney General John Ashcroft has ordered federal prosecutors in New York and Connecticut to seek the death penalty in more criminal cases, reports say.
According to the New York Times newspaper, Mr Ashcroft has rejected the advice of prosecutors in a dozen cases, asking them to seek the death penalty instead.
By law, prosecutors only make recommendations on whether the death penalty should be sought in a federal case, and Mr Ashcroft has final approval.
Critics say Mr Ashcroft is trying to bring capital punishment to areas of America which are traditionally less inclined to return a verdict for the death penalty.
‘Law of the land’
There are currently 12 cases – 10 in New York and two in Connecticut – where US attorneys have either advised against the death penalty, or not pursued it.
The New York Times said that they have now been overruled by Mr Ashcroft.
The US Justice Department said that the death penalty was the law of the land, and that the review process was designed to ensure consistency and fairness across the country.
But here in New York City, no federal jury has returned a verdict for the death penalty since the laws were revised a decade ago.
Defence lawyers have criticised Mr Ashcroft’s approach, arguing that the best way to eliminate disparities was not to increase the use of capital punishment, but to reduce it.