Methods of Execution

Lethal injection is the most widely-used method of execution, but states still authorize other methods, including electrocution, gas chamber, hanging, 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 Injection1401

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, [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 Gas119 states (all have lethal injection as primary method)[Alabama], Arizona, California, [Florida], [Mississippi], Missouri, [Oklahoma], [Tennesse], [Wyoming]
Hanging31 state (has lethal injection as primary method, abolished death penalty prospectively)

[New Hampshire]* 

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

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]

News & Developments


Nov 13, 2023

Alabama Schedules A Second Execution for Kenneth Smith, Using Nitrogen Gas for the First Time in U.S. History

On November 8, 2023, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey sched­uled an exe­cu­tion date for Kenneth Smith, mark­ing the first attempt by a U.S. state to use nitro­gen gas in an exe­cu­tion. Mr. Smith was con­vict­ed of the 1988 mur­der-for-hire death of Elizabeth Sennett in Jefferson County, Alabama and has been on death row for near­ly 34 years. Following the state Supreme Court’s 6 – 2 deci­sion green­light­ing Attorney General Steve Marshall’s request for an exe­cu­tion war­rant, Gov. Ivey set a 32-hour exe­cu­tion date time­frame begin­ning on January 25, 2024. Alabama pre­vi­ous­ly attempt­ed to…

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Nov 08, 2023

Utah Judge Hears Argument in Prisoners’ Lawsuit Against Execution Protocol

On October 26, 2023, Judge Coral Sanchez of Utah’s Third Circuit Court heard argu­ments in a law­suit filed by five death-sen­tenced pris­on­ers against the State in April. Ralph Menzies, Troy Kell, Michael Archuleta, Douglas Carter, and Taberon Honie seek an order vacat­ing Utah’s cur­rent exe­cu­tion pro­to­col and enjoin­ing its use. The law­suit argues that the State’s two-pronged pro­to­col, with lethal injec­tion as the default method of exe­cu­tion and fir­ing squad as a back­up, con­sti­tutes cru­el and unusu­al pun­ish­ment in both meth­ods and is there­fore uncon­sti­tu­tion­al under the Eighth Amendment. At…

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Oct 24, 2023

Use of Nitrogen Hypoxia for Alabama Executions Could Endanger Spiritual Advisors and Prison Staff in the Execution Chamber

In August 2023, Alabama released the first-ever exe­cu­tion pro­to­col for nitro­gen hypox­ia, an untest­ed exe­cu­tion method in which pris­on­ers will be put to death by suf­fo­ca­tion as they are forced to breathe pure nitro­gen gas. Alabama’s heav­i­ly redact­ed pro­to­col pro­vides that pris­on­ers will be fit­ted with a mask and breath­ing tube to con­trol the gas, which will slow­ly deprive them of oxy­gen. However, use of this untest­ed method may also pose dan­gers to spir­i­tu­al advi­sors and prison staff in the exe­cu­tion chamber.

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Aug 28, 2023

Alabama Attorney General Seeks Execution with Unprecedented, Untested Method Using Nitrogen Hypoxia

On August 25, 2023, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall asked the state Supreme Court to set a date for Kenneth Smith to be exe­cut­ed using nitro­gen hypox­ia, a method that has nev­er been used in any state. The deci­sion to use this method comes after Alabama botched sev­er­al exe­cu­tions. Since 2018, when Alabama ini­tial­ly autho­rized the use of nitro­gen hypox­ia in cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, the state has been work­ing to estab­lish a pro­to­col for exe­cu­tions using this method. Alabama ini­tial­ly autho­rized nitro­gen hypox­ia amidst a short­age of lethal injec­tion drugs. Oklahoma…

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Aug 24, 2023

Law Reviews: The Capital Shadow Docket and the Death of Judicial Restraint

A recent law review arti­cle crit­i­cizes the U.S. Supreme Court’s use of its shad­ow dock­et’ in cap­i­tal cas­es, par­tic­u­lar­ly in recent years. The Capital Shadow Docket and the Death of Judicial Restraint, by Professor Jenny-Brooke Condon, explains that the Court invokes judi­cial restraint to jus­ti­fy its refusal to sec­ond-guess the cru­el­ty of chal­lenged exe­cu­tion meth­ods or when Justices cite fed­er­al­ism-based ratio­nales for refus­ing to delay state enforce­ment of a death sen­tences … And yet on the Supreme Court’s shad­ow dock­et, the Court’s death penal­ty jurispru­dence is any­thing but restrained.” 

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May 02, 2023

As Tennessee Legislature Ends, Two Death-Penalty Bills Fail and One Passes

Bills to alter the state’s method of exe­cu­tion and to make the exe­cu­tion process more trans­par­ent failed in Tennessee’s leg­is­la­ture this year as its ses­sion con­clud­ed. In an effort to facil­i­tate exe­cu­tions bogged down by the state’s prob­lems with lethal injec­tion, a bill was pro­posed to give pris­on­ers the option of the fir­ing squad for their exe­cu­tion. Following an inde­pen­dent inves­ti­ga­tion into Tennessee’s lethal injec­tion pro­to­cols, Governor Bill Lee ® had sus­pend­ed exe­cu­tions on January 52023.

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Apr 27, 2023

New Podcast: Discussion with Ron McAndrew, Former Florida Warden Who Presided Over Executions

In the lat­est episode of Discussions with DPIC, Anne Holsinger, Managing Director of DPIC, inter­views Ron McAndrew (pic­tured), a for­mer Florida Prison Warden who wit­nessed exe­cu­tions using elec­tro­cu­tion and lethal injec­tion in Florida and Texas. He offers reflec­tions on the neg­a­tive impact that exe­cu­tions have on the fam­i­lies of both the vic­tim and the con­demned, the cor­rec­tion­al offi­cers, and on himself.

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Mar 28, 2023

Idaho Steps Closer to Using the Firing Squad for Executions

Idaho will become the fifth state to autho­rize the fir­ing squad as a method of exe­cu­tion and may become the first state to manda­to­ri­ly impose it on a death row pris­on­er since 1976. Idaho’s Governor Brad Little signed HB 186 into law on March 24, 2023, and it goes into effect on July 1. The law gives the direc­tor of the Idaho Department of Correction up to five days after a death war­rant is issued to deter­mine if lethal injec­tion is avail­able. If it is declared unavail­able, the exe­cu­tion will…

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Sep 21, 2022

Alabama Federal Court Issues Injunction Halting Execution of Alan Miller

A fed­er­al dis­trict court issued an order on September 19, 2022 to halt the sched­uled September 22, 2022 exe­cu­tion of Alabama death-row pris­on­er Alan Miller by any method oth­er than nitro­gen hypox­ia,” lead­ing to a series of last-minute appeals by Alabama pros­e­cu­tors and an after-hours exe­cu­tion-night rul­ing by the U.S. Supreme Court to let the exe­cu­tion go for­ward. Alabama sub­se­quent­ly called off the exe­cu­tion when it became appar­ent more than two hours lat­er that exe­cu­tion per­son­nel would be unable to suc­cess­ful­ly set an IV line before the mid­night expi­ra­tion of Miller’s…

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