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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

No firing squad for Mississippi's death row inmates

Mississippi lawmakers have shot down the firing squad as a means of execution for death row inmates.

The change, by a state Senate committee, came after the lower chamber passed a proposal Feb. 8 that would have allowed death by nitrogen gas chamber, firing squad and electrocution as alternatives to the current method of lethal injection. The state legislature proposed the other options in case others are deemed unconstitutional or become unavailable.

"States have been having difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs within the United States primarily because the American pharmaceutical manufacturers have uniformly said they don't want their medicines used in killing prisoners," said Robert Dunham, Director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

The options do not permit condemned prisoners to choose their execution method. The alternative methods are available only if the lethal injection is not available with gas chamber being the 2nd option and electrocution the last.

According to Dunham, other states have also turned to alternative ways to carry out death sentences. He notes Utah and Oklahoma have added death by firing squad as an alternate to lethal injection and Tennessee has authorized the use of the electric chair. Death by firing squad in Utah is only available to those sentenced to death prior to 2004. In all 31 states that allow the death penalty, the primary method for executions is lethal injection.

Dunham said he expects legal challenges to the most recent change in the proposed bill. The state currently faces legal challenges surrounding the drugs it uses for lethal injection executions. Opponents say the use of the drugs violate the U.S. Constitution.

The Magnolia State previously used the electric chair and gas chamber to execute violent criminals. Lethal injection became the state's sole means of execution in March of 1998, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Mississippi's most recent execution was carried out in 2012 and there are currently 47 people on death row in the state.

The bill will now move to the full state senate for consideration and will have to be sent back the house for approval of the amended changes before being passed on to the governor.

Source: Associated Press, February 25, 2017

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