The Backwards Backup Plan
By: Stephanie Wiederin 
Student Writer for The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, Volume 18 

State lawmakers in Utah are pushing forward a bill that would allow the state to execute individuals by firing squad if the state cannot come up with the requisite lethal injection drugs. Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert stated that he is “leaning toward” signing this bill even though he prefers utilizing the lethal injection method. But with the recent state of lethal injection drug affairs, states are searching far and wide for a back up method to carry out the capital punishments they are charged with executing.

Utah legislators approved the bill last week, becoming the latest state to consider alternative methods of execution in the face of lethal injection drug shortages. In early February, Oklahoma lawmakers put forward a bill that would make Oklahoma the first state to use “nitrogen hypoxia,” as a backup execution method if the U.S. Supreme Court finds Oklahoma’s current three-drug lethal injection method unconstitutional. In the previous year, Tennessee passed a law to bring back the electric chair in the face of the lethal injection drug scarcities.  In both Tennessee and Utah, eligible inmates already had the option of choosing either the firing squad, as in Utah’s case, or the electric chair in Tennessee. The new laws take the decision from the condemned’s hands and instead allows for the new methods to be utilized without consent in situations of lethal injection drug shortages.

With the recent controversies surrounding lethal injections, it isn’t any surprise that states are looking for new methods to carry out executions. The last few years have seen major changes to the death penalty field, much of it stemming from European manufacturers banning the use of their drugs in executions. In April of 2014, the death penalty made headlines once again with a botched lethal injection execution in Oklahoma, the first under the state’s new three-drug cocktail solution. Witnesses stated that they saw Clayton Lockett, convicted murderer and rapist, convulsing on the gurney, breathing heavily, while trying to speak. The entire process took 43 minutes after officials administered the drugs.

Since then, numerous other executions have gone awry, making 2014 the worst year in lethal injection history.  As each botched execution made headlines, outrage followed. Hoping to combat these concerns, as well as the restrictive drug shortages, states have moved towards implementing new execution methods, such as those stated above.  All of this has roused a new round of debates surrounding not only the methods of capital punishment, but also whether or not we should have capital punishment at all.

As the execution methods become more disastrous, painful, and gruesome, society’s backlash only deepens. Lethal injection, once considered the humane method of execution, can no longer claim that title. Constitutional rights are being violated by states experimenting with ragtag drug mixtures.  As a society, we need be critical of the backwards steps that states are taking in order to continue carrying out executions, when perhaps we need to rally together and start calling for states to cease executions altogether.