Executions

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.

Overview

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 Injection1408

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


News

Apr 22, 2024

Louisiana Senate Committee Approves Legislation Supported by Jewish Community to Remove Nitrogen Hypoxia as Possible Method of Execution

On April 16, 2024, the Louisiana Senate Judiciary B Committee unan­i­mous­ly vot­ed to advance a bill that would remove nitro­gen hypox­ia from the state’s avail­able meth­ods of exe­cu­tion. Introduced by state Senator Katrina Jackson-Andrews, Senate Bill 430 is sup­port­ed by the Jews Against Gassing Coalition, an orga­ni­za­tion con­sist­ing of Jewish Louisiana res­i­dents who oppose state-sanc­tioned gas exe­cu­tions. We rec­og­nize, of course, that the gassing of inno­cent vic­tims in the Holocaust is quite…

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News

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.

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News

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.

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