South Carolina is pushing to reinstate the use of the firing squad and the electric chair, arguing that the requirement for “painless” executions is not necessary.
Four inmates on death row in South Carolina are challenging the use of the electric chair and firing squad, arguing that these methods constitute cruel and unusual punishments. Additionally, they contend that a new law allowing lethal injections in 2023 is excessively secretive about the specifics of the drugs used.
The governor of the Palmetto State, on the other hand, holds a different opinion, stating that all three methods align with the current protocol and there is no legal requirement for painless executions.
Grayson Lambert, a lawyer representing Gov. Henry McMaster’s office, emphasized that courts have never required death to be immediate or without pain.
Currently, if lethal injection fails to work, South Carolina has the electric chair as its backup method. In 2021, lawmakers included the firing squad as an additional option.
In September, the state made a significant change to its lethal injection procedure by adopting the use of the sedative pentobarbital. This new method allows for a single injection instead of the previous three. Although there is limited information available about the specific details of this drug, prison officials have stated that it follows a protocol similar to that used by the federal government and six other states.
The inmates are arguing that pentobarbital, which is compounded and mixed, has a shelf life of approximately 45 days. They are seeking information regarding the regular supplier of the drug and the guidelines in place for testing its quality.
According to court papers, if the drug used for lethal injection is not potent enough, it may fail to cause death. Conversely, if the drug is too powerful, it could potentially form small clumps that could result in severe pain upon injection.
According to Lindsey Vann, a lawyer from Justice 360, there has been a lack of transparency regarding the execution methods used for inmates in the country. She states, “No inmate in the country has ever been put to death with such little transparency about how he or she would be executed.”
The state’s lawyers, on the other hand, contend that the inmates are seeking this information solely to locate the drug company and exert pressure on them to cease production.
The state has not suggested incorporating nitrogen gas, similar to Alabama, where the first execution was recently carried out using this lethal chemical.
South Carolina has not carried out the death penalty for almost 13 years due to the expiration of the drugs used for lethal injection and the refusal of companies to sell them to prisons without maintaining anonymity.
During a 90-minute hearing on Tuesday, the judges raised concerns about whether the use of a firing squad would be considered as an unusual form of punishment. They noted that this method has only been utilized three times in the past 50 years, and all instances occurred exclusively in Utah.
They also raised doubts about the electric conductivity of the human skull and whether modern science has any definitive answers about the method’s level of pain or cruelty, which was originally determined a century ago.
South Carolina has appealed to the Supreme Court to dismiss a lower court ruling from 2022 that deemed the use of the electric chair and firing squad as cruel forms of punishment.
South Carolina used to conduct about three executions annually and had approximately 60 individuals on death row over ten years ago. However, due to successful appeals, the number has decreased to 33.
In the past 13 years, the state has seen a significant decline in the number of prisoners sent to death row. This can be attributed to two main factors: the scarcity of lethal injection drugs and the increasing strength of defenses against the death penalty. As a result, many prosecutors have shifted their approach and are now opting for life imprisonment without the possibility of parole instead of pursuing capital punishment.