South Carolina’s Republican governor signed a bill into law last week that sounds like it’s from a different century: Death row inmates must choose whether to be executed by the electric chair or a firing squad if lethal injection drugs are unavailable.
Lethal injection is the preferred method of execution in states that have the death penalty. But in recent years, they’ve had difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs as pharmaceutical companies blocked their drugs from being used in executions.
In South Carolina, the state’s supply of lethal injection drugs expired while death row inmates’ cases went through appeals. Under the state’s previous law, prisoners on death row could choose lethal injection or the electric chair. The inmates have chosen lethal injection and, as a result, have not been executed as the state has no more of the drugs needed.
South Carolina has not executed anyone in a decade.
When states can’t get lethal drugs
Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, says that states have reacted to their inability to get the drugs in various ways.
Some states, Dunham says, have tried to obtain the drugs either on the gray market or through subterfuge.
Some states have switched to drugs they can obtain through compounding pharmacies — though pharmacy associations have adopted resolutions urging their members not to facilitate in executions.
Many states have halted executions, whether by abolishing the death penalty or by simply not carrying out executions.