May 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

S.C. governor signs bill requiring death row inmates to choose firing squad or electric chair

South Carolina governor pointing while standing on stage

Gov. Henry McMaster at he 2016 Republican National Convention. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill Monday to require death row inmates to choose between firing squad or the electric chair, as a lack of drugs for lethal injections has stalled executions, AP reports.

The big picture: State executions have been steadily dropping for two decades, as the U.S. generally shifted away from the punishment. South Carolina is moving in the opposite direction.

  • It has been 10 years since South Carolina last executed an inmate on death row. Lawmakers have said that's because pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell states the drugs to carry out lethal injections.

Worth noting: Lethal injection is still the primary method for executions under the law, but the state will mandate that prison officials can use an electric chair or firing squad if they don't have the drugs.

The big picture: 24 states have a death penalty law in place. Fewer than 50 death sentences have been imposed each year for the past six years. Biden opposes the death penalty and has said he wants to end its use.

  • Three other states — Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah — allow firing squads to carry out executions, AP writes, citing the Death Penalty Information Center.

Zoom in: Three South Carolina inmates had chosen an execution method — lethal injection — that the state was unable to carry out, due to a lack of drugs for lethal injection, AP reports.

  • While the electric chair is ready to use in the state, prison officials are still researching how firing squads operate in the three other states that allow them for executions.
  • Lawyers for the three inmates are considering suing, per AP.
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