Legal Challenges to Execution Methods

Until early April only two US states allowed the firing squad as a method of execution. In early April, Mississippi joined Oklahoma and Utah in permitting this “barbaric anachronism of a different era” Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant approved three additional methods of execution by approving House Bill 638. The state protocol now allows the firing squad as well as nitrogen hypoxia and electrocution.

The firing squad option was originally rejected by the House, but was later reinstated, and approved by the Senate. 

Nitrogen hypoxia has never been used to execute humans, but American Veterinary Association guidelines do not permit it for euthanizing some animals. It is permitted as an execution method in only five other states (Arizona, California, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wyoming). Electrocution is allowed in eight other states.

Robert Dunham, of the Death Penalty Information Center, notes that national public opinion recoils from gas chambers, firing squads and the electric chair as being cruel and unusual punishment. Dunham believes Mississippians’ support of such options could result in reduced business development in the state:
“Even if the public in Mississippi thought that (alternatives) were OK, it’s bad for business because it creates an image of the state as being barbaric. That is not a good atmosphere for economic development.”

Jim Craig, an attorney with the New Orleans-based Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, who is suing Mississippi over lethal injection drugs, has said that each of the new methods of executions will be challenged in court. He explained that every additional method “injects a whole new series of issues in the existing case.” For instance, with the firing squad the state would have to specify protocols and procedures to decrease the risk of torture.

We are grateful to Craig for his dedication. And we trust Mississippi will reconsider its proposed descent into barbarism.

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