This summer, the US Justice Department has restarted the practice of federal executions after a 17-year hiatus. Since then, eight people have been put to death by federal authorities and new executions are being planned for the upcoming month.
The US Justice Department has amended execution protocols, allowing for federal inmates to be put to death using methods other than lethal injection, which could potentially include inhaling nitrogen gas, firing squads and even hangings.
According to the rule, which was published in the Federal Register on Friday, the US government could now use “any other manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence was imposed”, to carry out federal executions.
The list of these “other” ways to carry out capital punishment in US states is not long, but could be surprising to those unfamiliar with American executions.
Methods of Execution Used Across the US
In the United States, the death penalty is allowed in 28 out of 50 states, with lethal injunction being the most common method applied to carry out the sentencing.
States including Florida, Virginia and Kentucky still use electrocution, where the convicted is ‘fried’ in an electric chair, as in Stephen King’s The Green Mile. Several more states, including Arkansas and Oklahoma, may resort to this method as an alternative if others are found unconstitutional or unavailable.
The inhalation of a poison gas as a means of execution is permitted in seven states, with Alabama being the latest to use this process of asphyxiating offenders. In Washington state, convicted inmates can also choose to be executed by hanging, while firing squads are still available as a measure in Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, according to Death Penalty Information Center.
In some states that practice various different execution alternatives, criminals sentenced to death are able to choose how exactly they will leave this world.
End of Hiatus
In July, the US Department of Justice resumed capital punishment for the first time since 2003, executing three federal prisoners that month. Five more were put to death between August and November. The last person to be killed was Orlando Hall, who was accused of kidnapping, raping and killing 16-year-old Liza Rene back in 1994.
All of the convicts were put to death via a lethal injection of a drug called pentobarbital, but the substance can be difficult and expensive to obtain.
The return of the federal death sentence was generally met with a wave of condemnation from the Democratic party, as more people have now been executed by US federal authorities in 2020 than during the previous fifty years.
The Justice Department has scheduled five more executions before Inauguration Day takes place in January, that could see Democratic candidate Joe Biden assuming the presidential seat if he is confirmed by Electoral College in December, something the incumbent President Donald Trump opposes.
The announced amendment to execution protocols will come into effect on 24 December, but it’s not clear yet whether the federal government will carry out any of the scheduled executions with any methods other than the lethal jab.