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Not Wholly And Entirely True About Federal Firing Squads

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Firing squad deployed for death row backlog

Err, no. Sure, The Donald is speeding up – resuming possibly – the application of the federal death penalty. But they’ve not now said that they can shoot them. Instead:

Having reinstated federal capital punishment the Trump administration is scrambling to expand the number of ways that the federal government can execute prisoners before the president leaves office in January.

The default method is lethal injection unless a judge specifically orders otherwise but under a rule scheduled to take effect next month, death by firing squad and by electrocution are among the extra methods that will be permitted.

The proposal brings federal executions into line with the varied means available to executioners in individual states, such as Alabama, where prisoners can elect to be killed by electrocution or nitrogen hypoxia (a lethal gas dose) instead of by deadly injection.

In Utah a 2015 law states that a firing squad shall be deployed to carry out executions if the substances required for a lethal injection are unavailable.

The new law, first reported by ProPublica — a not-for-profit body in New York City that produces investigative journalism in the public interest — specifies that the government may conduct executions by lethal injection, by a method designated by a court, “or by any other manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence was imposed”.

All of which is something different.

A standard defence technique is to insist that the method of execution is unfair, unsafe (!), amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and so on and on. All of which may be true of course. But you only get to try any specific argument the once. “Sucking his brains out by attaching a Dyson to his eyeball is cruel!” “Yep.” “Lethal injection with this set of drugs is cruel!” “Nope, we dealt with that when Jimmy Joe Bob were done for that murder rape. Shut up.”

Each objection is a one time only objection. Except America has two legal systems, state and federal. So we’ve the possibility – given death sentence appeals perhaps the certainty – of two stabs at each single argument. By saying that the Feds can execute by any method already legal in that particular state jurisdiction we get to the presumption that the second round of objections in the federal court system don’t happen.

Reading between the lines of the official announcement this is indeed what they’re doing.

And the important bit? The method of execution can only be what is legal to use as the method in the state where the sentence was imposed. So, Utah allows firing squad (Gary Gilmore and all that). So, a federal sentence imposed in Utah can be by firing squad as is possible under state law. They’re not, actually, suggesting the creation of the Federal firing squad to speed up the execution process at all.

Don’t we have such a perceptive media out there?

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expunct (ɪkˈspʌŋkt)
VERB (transitive)
1. to delete or erase; blot out; obliterate
2. to wipe out or destroy

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