Death Penalty

DOJ rule change would allow some executions by firing squad and electrocution

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The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday published a final rule change that would allow federal executions to be carried out in any manner allowed in the state where the death sentence was imposed.

That means that some federal executions could be carried out by electrocution, nitrogen gas or firing squad, report the New York Times, the Washington Post and ProPublica. The rule is scheduled to take effect Dec. 24.

The rule is intended to head off legal challenges to the DOJ’s prior policy that expressly authorized execution only by lethal injection. Federal law says U.S. marshals must supervise federal death sentences “in the manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence is imposed.” In states without the death penalty, courts may designate another state as the guide, the law says.

The articles say it’s unclear what kind of practical effect the rule will have. For decades, the federal government has carried out executions by lethal injection, according to the New York Times. Eight inmates executed by the federal government since July were killed by lethal injection.

Five more federal executions are scheduled before President-elect Joe Biden becomes president. A DOJ official told the Washington Post and the New York Times that four inmates will be killed by lethal injection. The official didn’t comment on the execution of the fifth inmate, Dustin John Higgs, because of pending litigation.

Utah allows execution by firing squad and Tennessee by electric chair. States that permit execution by nitrogen gas are Oklahoma, Mississippi and Alabama.

Biden will try to pass legislation to eliminate the federal death penalty, his campaign has said.

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