South Carolina Judge Rules Electric Chair and Firing Squad Executions are Unconstitutional

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Judge and Gavel
Judge and Gavel

On Tuesday, a South Carolina Judge ruled that the state cannot use firing squads or the electric chair to execute death row inmates because it violates the state constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Her decision has at least temporarily spared four inmates, one of whom was set to be killed by a firing squad in April.

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The four men had sued the state of South Carolina, arguing that these methods of execution violated their rights.

“We are very pleased with the result and are reviewing the Court’s Order. We anticipate SCDC and the Governor’s Office will appeal the decision,” Lindsey Vann, an attorney representing the four men, told Greenville News, a local newspaper.

The fact that we got to a place where South Carolina is attempting to shoot a man to death is worth exploring.

Since the mid-90s, lethal injection has been the primary way that South Carolina has killed death row inmates, who, it’s worth noting, are overwhelmingly Black. Of the 282 inmates South Carolina has executed since 1912, 209 have been Black, according to the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

However, in the last few years, pharmaceutical companies have started to make it more difficult for state’s to acquire the drugs required for lethal injections.

Whether that’s because they’re gripped by a guilty conscience, or because they don’t want their products associated with state-sanctioned killings, you decide.

But either way, states no longer have access to lethal injection drugs like they did in the past. And while it would be great if this was a come to Jesus moment about the horrors of the death penalty, it wasn’t.

To this day, a majority of Americans support the death penalty, according the the most recent Gallup poll on the issue. And so motivated by voters or their own beliefs in capitol punishment, South Carolina looked into other execution methods.

In 2021, South Carolina lawmakers voted to require death row inmates to choose between the electric chair or a firing squad, with the electric chair being the default if they didn’t decide.

Judge Jocelyn Newman, who handed down the ruling to halt the executions, made her opinion on that law quite clear in her order.

“In 2021, South Carolina turned back the clock and became the only state in the country in which a person may be forced into the electric chair if he refuses to elect how he will die,” she wrote, according to the New York Times. “ In doing so, the General Assembly ignored advances in scientific research and evolving standards of humanity and decency,” the order read.”

It looks as though the Governor’s office plans to appeal the decision, according to statements made to Greenville News. But for now, at least the state’s gruesome execution plans are on hold.