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What to know about Biden's inaction, mixed signals on death penalty

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In Boston, the Justice Department is pressing judges to uphold marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's death sentence. In New York, it's asking jurors to impose the death penalty on a man who killed eight people in an attack on a bicycle path.

President Joe Biden campaigned on a pledge to work toward abolishing federal capital punishment but has taken no major steps to that end, though the Justice Department has imposed a moratorium that means no federal executions are likely to happen anytime soon.

The department continues to press for the death penalty in certain cases but not in others. In a Tuesday filing, federal prosecutors said they won't seek it for Patrick Crusius, a 24-year-old accused of fatally shooting nearly two dozen people in a racist attack at a West Texas Walmart in 2019.

El Paso Shooting

FILE - El Paso Walmart shooting suspect Patrick Crusius pleads not guilty during his arraignment on Oct. 10, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. 

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Advocates for abolishing capital punishment say mixed signals from the administration and silence from Biden — the first president to have openly opposed the death penalty -- drives home that the Democrat has not made good on his campaign promises that so raised their hopes.

Others say his inaction makes it likely a future president will resume federal executions as President Donald Trump did in 2020 after a 17-year hiatus. The spree of 13 executions at a prison death chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana, during his last six months in office meant Trump oversaw more federal executions than any president in over 120 years.

"The Biden administration appears to have no understanding that inaction, if it continues, will result in executions," said Robert Dunham, who heads the nonpartisan Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. "The Biden administration executions will be carried out by a future administration. But they will be Biden executions."

Here's a look at the federal death penalty under Biden's administration:

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