How states carry out death sentences

May 24, 2014 

Tennessee this week became the first state to enact a law allowing officials to electrocute inmates, regardless of their wishes, in certain circumstances. Six other states allow inmates to opt for the electric chair, while a seventh would move to electrocution if lethal injection were ever banned. Here is a look at laws regarding the electric chair and other execution methods in the United States:

ELECTRIC CHAIR

Seven states allow or would allow electrocution as a secondary option if lethal injection is unavailable or if an inmate chooses it:

› Alabama: Injection is used unless an inmate requests death by electrocution. Gov. Robert Bentley said on May 5 that he is against switching back to the electric chair whenever the state resumes putting inmates to death.

› Arkansas: Injection is used for inmates whose offense occurred on or after July 4, 1983; those who committed the offense before that date may select injection or electrocution.

› Florida: Inmates may choose between injection and electrocution. Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews said the state has a stockpile of drugs that will take care of its needs for about two years.

› Kentucky: Injection is used for all inmates convicted after March 31, 1998. Inmates convicted before that time may choose injection or electrocution. If the inmate declines to choose, injection is the method. Kentucky is under a judge’s order not to take any steps to carry out an execution.

› Oklahoma: Uses electrocution if lethal injection is ever held to be unconstitutional.

› South Carolina: Inmates choose between injection and electrocution.

› Tennessee: Injection is used for those whose capital offense occurred after Dec. 31, 1998; those who committed the offense before that date may select electrocution by written waiver. Electrocution now is also authorized if lethal injection drugs are not available.

› Virginia: Allows prisoners to choose between injection and electrocution. A proposal to allow the Virginia Department of Corrections to use the electric chair as a backup if drugs weren’t available passed the Virginia House but died in the Senate during this year’s legislative session.

INJECTION

Thirty-five states, the federal government and the U.S. military use injection as the primary method of carrying out an execution. Three of them — New Mexico, Connecticut and Maryland — abolished the death penalty but their laws were not retroactive, leaving inmates on Death Row in each state.

GAS CHAMBER

Arizona, Missouri and Wyoming allow the state to put inmates to death in the gas chamber if lethal injection drugs are not available.

HANGING

Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington allow the state to hang inmates if lethal injection drugs are not available.

FIRING SQUAD

› Oklahoma: Law on the books would allow the state to use a firing squad only if lethal injection and electrocution are found unconstitutional.

› Utah: No longer offers the firing squad as an option to inmates, but would allow it only for inmates who chose this method prior to its elimination.

SOURCES: DEATH PENALTY INFORMATION CENTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORTING

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