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Reno and Capital Punishment

UNITED States Attorney General Janet Reno is on record as personally opposed to capital punishment but willing to concur with the death penalty if it is ordered according to state and federal laws.

In her recent confirmation hearings, Ms. Reno said that as a Florida prosecutor she recommended the death penalty in cases where the facts and the law called for it.

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As US attorney general, Reno has become the official who will see that federal capital sentences are carried out, barring pardons or other interventions. She became the nation's top lawyer and prosecutor just as the Bush Department of Justice was preparing to impose the first death sentences in 29 years.

The federal government has not carried out an execution since 1963, and in 1984 Congress repealed a 1937 law providing that federal executions be administered in the manner used in the states where the penalty was imposed.

One man is awaiting execution after being convicted of violating a 1988 federal drug law; the government is seeking capital punishment for nine others under the same law.

Reno has held that interminable delays in executions make "a mockery of the justice system." She has pledged to help draft new anticrime legislation that speeds executions by cutting back on the appeal rights of those slated for capital punishment.

Invoking justice to tighten the appeals process and speed the carrying out of capital sentences is ironic, especially to those who, like this newspaper, oppose capital punishment. Justice isn't served if a truncated appeals process allows an innocent person to be executed.

Reno's approach to her past responsibilities indicates that she will be scrupulous in carrying out the letter of the law and mindful of the rights of accused and convicted individuals, while subordinating her personal convictions on the usefulness to society of capital punishment.

We hope, however, that if the government proposes to expand the death penalty further, she gives those personal convictions on the death penalty freer voice.

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