Injection, electrocution, hanging, firing squad: How does Florida execute people?

Alabama officials executed a convicted killer Jan. 25, becoming the first state to use nitrogen hypoxia.

The execution took about 22 minutes.

Executions are nothing new in the United States or across the world, but methods have changed over the years, along with controversies over those methods.

What's the main method of execution in the US?

Hanging, electrocution, gas chamber, firing squad, and lethal injection have been the main methods of execution in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The sixth and newest method officially adopted by the U.S. is nitrogen hypoxia.

"The Supreme Court has never found a method of execution to be unconstitutional, though some methods have been declared unconstitutional by state courts," the organization said.

Lethal injection is the preferred means of execution in all states, although drug manufacturers resist providing the drugs needed. For that reason, "some states now allow the use of alternative methods if lethal injection cannot be performed."

Around the US, authorized methods of execution

  • Lethal injection, used by 28 states; 1,402 executed since 1976.

  • Electrocution, used by eight states; 163 executed since 1976.

  • Lethal gas, used by seven states; 11 executed since 1976.

  • Hanging, used by one state; three executed since 1976.

  • Firing squad, used by five states; three executed since 1976.

See the list of the methods used in each state.

What new method of execution did Alabama use?

The state used nitrogen hypoxia to kill Kenneth Eugene Smith. Smith chose nitrogen gas for his execution after a previous attempt at killing him by lethal injection failed. Smith was given the death penalty for the 1988 murder-for-hire plot of a preacher’s wife.

In November 2022, Smith spent hours on a table as executioners tried to find a vein to administer the lethal drugs before ultimately calling it off.

What is nitrogen hypoxia?

Nitrogen hypoxia is a form of execution in which inmates are deprived of oxygen until they breath only nitrogen, causing asphyxiation.

What methods of execution are used in Florida?

Florida uses two methods of execution today: lethal injection and electrocution, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The choice is up to the inmate.

"Both Florida and Tennessee explicitly authorize lethal injection and electrocution, but state that, if those methods are found unconstitutional, prisoners may be executed by any constitutional method of execution," the Death Penalty Information Center said.

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What is the Hurst v Florida ruling by the US Supreme Court?

On Jan. 12, 2016, in an 8-1 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in Hurst v. Florida that struck down as unconstitutional Florida’s capital sentencing statute.

The court declared the Florida law that allowed death recommendations based only on a majority jury vote to be unconstitutional, saying it violated the Sixth Amendment's right to a jury trial because it required that a judge, rather than a jury, make findings of fact as to whether the prosecution had proven that a defendant is eligible to face the death penalty.

At the time of the opinion, Florida death-penalty law required a jury to make a sentencing recommendation — on which only a bare majority of jurors had to agree — to the judge, who would then later “hold a separate hearing and determine whether sufficient aggravating circumstances existed to justify imposing the death penalty.”

Since then, the Florida Legislature has amended the state's capital sentencing statute three times.

The third change came in April 2023, when the Legislature rescinded the unanimous-jury requirement, allowing a judge to impose death if at least eight out of 12 jurors agree.

By the numbers: Florida death penalty, executions

  • Number of executions since 1976: 105

  • Number of executions before 1976: 347

  • Current number on death row: 318

  • Number of innocent peopel freed from death row: 30

  • Number of clemencies granted: 6

  • Where are Florida executions held? Florida State Prison in Raiford

Death penalty history in Florida

Prior to 1923, executions in Florida were carried out by the county, instead of the state.

Florida changed execution methods from hanging to electrocution, when executions were moved to state control.

Timeline, as provided by Death Penalty Information Center

  • 1827: First known execution in Florida, Benjamin Donica hung for murder.

  • 1923: A bill places all executions in Florida under state (rather than local) jurisdiction, and substitutes hanging for the electric chair.

  • 1972: The Supreme Court strikes down the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia. Florida subsequently passes a new capital punishment statute.

  • 1976: The Supreme Court reinstates the death penalty when it upholds Georgia’s statute in Gregg v. Georgia. In Proffitt v. Florida, the court also upholds the Florida statute.

  • 1979: Florida is the first state to carry out a non-voluntary execution post-Gregg when it executes John Spenkelink.

  • 1990s: Florida botches the electric chair executions of Jesse Tafero, Pedro Medina, and Allen Lee Davis and begins to use lethal injection as its execution method.

  • 2002: Aileen Wuornos, called the first female serial killer by the media, is executed.

  • 2016: Florida statutorily abolishes judicial override, the process by which trial judges were permitted to impose death sentences despite an advisory jury’s recommendation for life.

  • 2017: Florida statutorily abolishes non-unanimous jury recommendations for death and requires that the sentencing jury unanimously recommend a death sentence before the trial judge may impose a death sentence.

  • 2020: The Florida Supreme Court reverses a long-held precedent requiring capital appeals to be reviewed for proportionality. The court announced it will no longer conduct proportionality reviews which are intended to guard against the imposition of the death penalty in cases that do not warrant it.

  • 2022: A non-unanimous Florida jury returns a verdict of life without parole for Nikolas Cruz, a teen offender convicted of killing 17 people in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

  • 2022: Two secrecy bills unanimously pass Florida’s criminal justice committees in the House and Senate, exempting the Florida Department of Corrections from having to disclose to the public the companies that provide lethal injection drugs or the people who administer the drugs during the execution.

  • 2023: Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a bill ending the requirement for juries to vote unanimously to recommend capital punishment in a capital felony case in order for a judge to sentence a defendant to death. An eight-juror majority is now needed for a death sentence to be imposed.

  • 2023: DeSantis signs legislation allowing the death penalty to be sought in sexual battery cases against a minor under the age of 12.

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Florida execution methods: New way to kill inmates, who decides