U.S. News


Tenn. Brings Back Electric Chair

Tennessee says it will bring back the option to use the electric chair on death row inmates if lethal injection drugs are unavailable.
Posted at 2:07 PM, May 23, 2014

Tennessee will again have the option to use the electric chair on death row inmates — under one condition.

WHBQ reports, "It can only be used on death row inmates if prisons aren’t able to get the drugs for lethal injection.”

And that's been an issue lately. There is a shortage of the drugs used in lethal injections because, as Time reports, "Manufacturers have held back supplying states with the combination of drugs used amid criticism that lethal injections aren't humane enough."

As a morbid punctuation to those concerns, a botched lethal injection in Oklahoma last month kept an inmate alive for more than half an hour. He later died of a heart attack. President Obama called the incident "deeply troubling." (Via ABC)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill Thursday following its widespread support in the state legislature.

As the law currently stands, Tennessee is one of eight states that still has the electric chair in some form.

But NPR reports, "The new law says the state can unilaterally mandate the chair if lethal injection drugs can't be obtained."

The new law has a vocal critic in one supervising assistant at the Tennessee Federal Defender's Office, who told NBC her office will challenge the law in court.

"I had hoped that Gov. Haslam would see that this bill is taking us a step backward and veto it. It puts Tennessee as an outlier to the rest of the nation."

According to a Vanderbilt University survey, more than 50 percent of respondents are in favor of the law.

But the president of the Death Penalty Information Center sees this at odds with the Eighth Amendment, which protects against "cruel and unusual punishment." He says, "The electric chair is clearly a brutal alternative." (Via CNN)

That said, the U.S. Supreme Court has never declared a method of execution unconstitutional due to it being cruel and unusual. It upheld the electric chair in 1890.