32 states, including Tennessee, have the death penalty. Death by lethal injection has been the most common method of capital punishment. But in the states where the death penalty is legal, lethal injections are being challenged as a humane method of execution.
Since the seventies, chemicals used in lethal injections have become increasingly hard to come by. The companies that manufacture the drugs are predominantly European and are from countries where the death penalty is illegal. Since the turn of the millennium, these companies have begun to refuse the sale of the drugs to prisons that intend to use them for executions. This has led states with the death penalty to turn to compounding pharmacies. Compounding pharmacies are known for lax regulation and manufacture the substitutes to the typical lethal injection drugs.
In late April, Oklahoma death row inmate and convicted murderer Clayton Lockett was given a lethal injection using the new drugs manufactured by a compounding pharmacy. Shortly after the injection, the execution went terribly awry. The inmate died slowly over the course of 43 minutes. Earlier in March Oklahoma had to delay two executions due to drug shortages.
The botched execution in Oklahoma has reverberated all the way to the Supreme Court. In May, The Supreme Court stayed an execution in Missouri due to similar concerns about the effectiveness of lethal injection.
In most states, the state government has no obligation to disclose where these drugs are being manufactured or what chemicals are in them. From the perspective of the state, the problem is securing the chemicals and maintaining compliance with the Supreme Court’s skeptical view of these new lethal injection drugs. These new problems have led states to consider new options for capital punishment.
Tennessee was the first state to take a step toward solving the problem through a controversial new law. In late May, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill allowing the electric chair to be used as a means of execution when lethal injection drugs are unavailable. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam on May 22.
Tennessee currently has 76 inmates on death row, but the new law is designated for inmates whose crimes were committed on or after July 1st, 2014. Tennessee is not alone in using electrocution as a form of capital punishment. Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia also allow for this form of capital punishment.
56% of Tennesseans support the new policy, according to a recent poll conducted by Vanderbilt University.