Methods of Execution

Lethal injection is the most widely-used method of execution, but many states authorize other methods including electrocution, lethal gas, and firing squad.


The primary means of execution in the U.S. have been hanging, electrocution, the gas chamber, firing squad, and lethal injection. The Supreme Court has never found a method of execution to be unconstitutional, though some methods have been declared unconstitutional by state courts. The predominance of lethal injection as the preferred means of execution in all states in the modern era may have put off any judgment by the Court regarding older methods.

Because of a resistance by drug manufacturers to provide the drugs typically used in lethal injections, some states now allow the use of alternative methods if lethal injection cannot be performed. Controversies surrounding the method to be used have delayed executions in many states, contributing to an overall decline in the use of the death penalty.

Authorized Methods

NOTE: [Brackets] around a state indicate that the state authorizes the listed method as an alternative method if other methods are found to be unconstitutional or are unavailable/impractical. Click on the state to obtain specific information about the methods authorized.

Method# of executions by method since 1976# of states authorizing methodJurisdictions that Authorize
Lethal Injection1406

28 states+ and U.S. Military and U.S. Gov’t

In South Carolina, lethal injection may be elected as an alternative method, if available.

+includes 1 state that no longer have an active death penalty

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida^, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire*, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, [South Carolina], South Dakota, Tennessee^, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, U.S. Military, U.S. Government

*New Hampshire abolished the death penalty but the repeal may not apply retroactively, leaving a prisoner on death row facing possible execution.

To find the drug protocols used by states, see State-by-State Lethal Injection.

Electrocution1638 states (in South Carolina, electrocution is the primary method; the other 7 have lethal injection as primary method).

[Alabama], [Arkansas], Florida, Kentucky, [Louisiana], [Mississippi], [Oklahoma], South Carolina, [Tennessee]

The supreme courts of Georgia (2001) and Nebraska (2008) have ruled that the use of the electric chair violates their state constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

Virginia had authorized the electric chair as a method of execution in some cases, but it repealed the death penalty in March 2021.

Lethal Gas128 states (all have lethal injection as primary method)

[Alabama], Arizona, California, [Louisiana], [Mississippi], Missouri, [Oklahoma], [Wyoming]

Four states (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma) specifically authorize execution by nitrogen hypoxia, though only Alabama has issued a protocol for its use. Alabama is the only state that has performed an execution by nitrogen hypoxia. The other states listed authorize “lethal gas,” but do not specify what type of gas would be used.

Firing Squad35 states (in South Carolina, electrocution is the primary method; the other states have lethal injection as primary method)[Mississippi], [Oklahoma], [Utah], [South Carolina], [Idaho]

^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.

News & Developments


Mar 11, 2024

OP-ED: Journalist Recalls Witnessing an Execution and Describes the Importance of Media Witnesses

In May 1990, Jonathan Eig, then a reporter for The New Orleans Times-Picayune, wit­nessed the elec­tric-chair-exe­cu­tion of Dalton Prejean at Angola State Penitentiary for the 1977 mur­der of a Louisiana state troop­er. Mr. Eig watched Mr. Prejean’s exe­cu­tion through an obser­va­tion win­dow, and report­ed see­ing his chest heave, his fists clench and his right wrist twist out­ward. A spark and a puff of smoke shot from the elec­trode attached to his left leg.” In the years fol­low­ing the exe­cu­tion, Mr. Eig regret­ted his deci­sion to wit­ness Mr. Prejean’s exe­cu­tion, writing…

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Feb 29, 2024

Idaho Halts First Lethal Injection Execution in 12 Years After Failure to Establish I.V. Lines

Thomas Creech’s February 28 exe­cu­tion was halt­ed after the Idaho Department of Correction exe­cu­tion team was unable to set an intra­venous line after an hour of repeat­ed attempts. Mr. Creech remained strapped to the gur­ney and con­scious while unsuc­cess­ful attempts were made to access veins in both arms and legs. Officials did not dis­close why the exe­cu­tion team was unable to estab­lish an IV line, but the train­ing and qual­i­fi­ca­tions of staff, as well as the acces­si­bil­i­ty and qual­i­ty of Mr. Creech’s veins, could have been fac­tors. Mr. Creech’s attorneys…

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Feb 07, 2024

Worldwide Wednesday International Roundup: China, Ghana, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United States, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe

The January 25, 2024 exe­cu­tion of Kenneth Smith in the state of Alabama with nitro­gen gas received wide­spread inter­na­tion­al con­dem­na­tion. The European Union reit­er­at­ed its com­mit­ment to abol­ish­ing the death penal­ty and called the exe­cu­tion method a par­tic­u­lar­ly cru­el and unusu­al pun­ish­ment.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, stat­ed: I deeply regret the exe­cu­tion of Kenneth Eugene Smith in Alabama despite seri­ous con­cerns that this nov­el and untest­ed method of suf­fo­ca­tion may amount to tor­ture, cru­el, inhu­man or degrad­ing treat­ment.” A January 30 state­ment by four United…

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Feb 06, 2024

South Carolina Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Constitutionality of Electrocution and Firing Squad, Considers Scope of Secrecy Law

On February 6, 2024, the South Carolina Supreme Court heard oral argu­ments in Owens v. Stirling, a case in which death-sen­tenced pris­on­ers chal­lenged the state’s elec­tro­cu­tion and fir­ing squad exe­cu­tion meth­ods as uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. A South Carolina tri­al court had pre­vi­ous­ly held an exten­sive evi­den­tiary hear­ing and issued an injunc­tion against use of those meth­ods based on the state’s con­sti­tu­tion­al pro­hi­bi­tion against cru­el,” unusu­al,” or cor­po­ral” pun­ish­ments. For almost 90 min­utes the par­ties dis­cussed the expert tes­ti­mo­ny and evi­dence con­sid­ered by the dis­trict court, while also spend­ing sub­stan­tial time debat­ing the…

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Feb 02, 2024

Ohio Officials Divided on Death Penalty as Attorney General Pushes New Bill to Legalize Nitrogen Hypoxia for Executions

On Tuesday, January 30, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced new leg­is­la­tion to autho­rize the use of nitro­gen gas in exe­cu­tions in the state. Joined by sev­er­al Republican state rep­re­sen­ta­tives and Louis Tobin of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, AG Yost said that he is seek­ing to kick­start” Ohio’s death penal­ty after a six-year pause in exe­cu­tions due to dif­fi­cul­ties obtain­ing lethal injec­tion drugs. The sta­tus quo is unac­cept­able,” he said. According to the text of the pro­posed bill, H.B. 392, a pris­on­er could elect lethal injec­tion or nitro­gen hypoxia…

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Jan 30, 2024

Louisiana Supreme Court Grants New Trial Based on Prosecutorial Misconduct while New Governor Landry Moves to Expand Methods of Execution and Restart Executions

On January 26, 2024, the Louisiana Supreme Court grant­ed a new tri­al to death-sen­tenced pris­on­er Darrell Robinson based on egre­gious pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al mis­con­duct. The Court held that Mr. Robinson did not receive a fair tri­al, or a ver­dict wor­thy of con­fi­dence.” Mr. Robinson’s quest to prove his inno­cence advances at the same time that Governor Jeff Landry seeks to expand the state’s meth­ods of exe­cu­tion and restart exe­cu­tions. During a tumul­tuous 2023 in which out­go­ing Governor John Bel Edwards sup­port­ed clemen­cy review for Louisiana’s entire death row, only to be blocked…

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Jan 26, 2024

The World is Watching”: Witnesses Report Kenneth Smith Appeared Conscious, Shook and Writhed” During First-Ever Nitrogen Hypoxia Execution

On January 25, 2024, Alabama exe­cut­ed Kenneth Smith using nitro­gen hypox­ia, a first in American his­to­ry. Though state attor­neys had assured courts that the method would cause uncon­scious­ness in sec­onds,” wit­ness­es report­ed that Mr. Smith appeared awake for sev­er­al min­utes after the nitro­gen gas began. They observed that he shook and writhed” for at least four min­utes before breath­ing heav­i­ly for anoth­er few min­utes. This was the fifth exe­cu­tion that I’ve wit­nessed in Alabama, and I have nev­er seen such a vio­lent reac­tion to an exe­cu­tion,” said media wit­ness Lee…

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Jan 04, 2024

Utah Judge Clears the Way for Use of the Firing Squad

On December 22, 2023, Judge Coral Sanchez of Utah’s Third Circuit Court dis­missed a law­suit brought by five men on the state’s death row that chal­lenged Utah’s two exe­cu­tion meth­ods and pro­to­cols. Ralph Menzies, Troy Kell, Michael Archuleta, Douglas Carter, and Taberon Honie sought an order vacat­ing Utah’s cur­rent exe­cu­tion pro­to­cols for lethal injec­tion and fir­ing squad and enjoin­ing their future use. The pris­on­ers argue that both meth­ods con­sti­tute cru­el and unusu­al pun­ish­ment under the Eighth Amendment. In her deci­sion to dis­miss their law­suit, Judge Sanchez wrote that the plain­tiffs…

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