South Carolina Proposes Resuming Executions with Electric Chair, Firing Squad
In a surprising twist, South Carolina is seeking to resume the use of electric chair and firing squads for executions, ending a long stretch of over a decade without any executions in the state. Legal representatives for a group of inmates on death row, who have exhausted their appeals, recently contended to South Carolina’s Supreme Court that these execution methods are cruel and unusual, a claim contradicted by the state itself. The state maintains that a “painless” execution is not a legal requirement.
End to Informal Execution Moratorium?
For the past 13 years, South Carolina has not carried out any executions, despite there being no official moratorium on the death penalty. This cessation stemmed from the expiration of the drugs previously used for lethal injections and the refusal of companies to sell more unless their identities remained anonymous. During this time, 33 inmates remained on death row.
The state purports that that all three execution methods including lethal injection, the electric chair, and firing squad method, are in alignment with existing legal protocols. The state’s assertion is that the law doesn’t mandate an “instantaneous or painless” requirement for executions.
Unusual Punishment or Legitimate Execution?
The executions being argued against involve the electric chair and firing squad methods. During a heated court hearing, the justices questioned the validity of the firing squad method as an unusual punishment, given its sparse use in the U.S. in the past 50 years; it has only been implemented three times, all in Utah. The justices also queried the electrical conductivity of the human skull and its implications for the intensity of pain inflicted through electrocution.
Firing squad and Electric chair: Contentious Execution Methods
South Carolina lawmakers in 2021 sanctioned the firing squad as an additional execution method. In stark contrast, no bills have been proposed in the state to introduce the contentious nitrogen gas method. This method was employed for the first time in the U.S. in Alabama last month, in which the prisoner respired pure nitrogen gas via a face mask.
For executions in South Carolina, the current law requires inmates to be sent to the electric chair unless they choose an alternative method.
Shield Law Sparking Controversy
Attorneys for the inmates hold that South Carolina’s shield law, which protects the identities of drug companies and individuals involved in an execution procedure, is more secretive than any other state and impedes the open dissemination of crucial information about execution protocols.
Repercussions of the Execution Resumption Proposal
If South Carolina’s Supreme Court approves this proposal, and subsequent appeals are unsuccessful, the state’s death chamber might start receiving inmates again for the first time since May 2011.
Executions: Then and Now
In the past, South Carolina used to executes an average of three prisoners a year, with over 60 inmates on death row. However, inmates’ successful appeals and deaths from other causes have reduced this number to 33. Over the past 13 years, only three new prisoners have been sent to death row.
Despite the controversy over execution methods, the trend in South Carolina and other states has been moving towards less frequent use of the death penalty due to rising costs, absence of lethal injection drugs, and sturdier defenses, prompting prosecutors to accept guilty pleas in favor of life sentences without parole.