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SC Judge Says Firing Squad, Electric Chair Violate State Constitution

A South Carolina judge ruled that the firing squad and electric chair are prohibited by the state's constitution, a decision to be appealed as the state struggles to implement new execution protocols. Judge Jocelyn Newman barred the South Carolina Department of Corrections from executing four death row inmates by electrocution or by firing squad. "In 2021, South Carolina turned back the clock and became the only state in the country in which a person may be forced into the electric chair if he refuses to elect how he will die. In doing so, the General Assembly ignored advances in scientific research and evolving standards of humanity and decency," the judge said. The state Supreme Court is expected to decide the issue, reports the Greenville News.

Attorneys for four condemned death row inmates, lawyers for the South Carolina Department of Corrections and Gov. Henry McMaster spent four days in trial debating whether the new death penalty statute violates the state constitution. McMaster signed legislation that made the default method of execution the electric chair and added an additional option for the firing squad. This made South Carolina the only state with electrocution as the default method and the fourth state to authorize the firing squad. Inmates filed suit, alleging that the electric chair and firing squad were cruel, unusual and corporal punishment. Dr. Jonathan Arden, who formerly led the Washington, D.C., Medical Examiner’s office, testified that the electric chair caused “effects on parts on the body, including internal organs, that is the equivalent of cooking.” Three prisoners in South Carolina have chosen the electric chair since lethal injection was made available in 1995.

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