Just 10 days before South Carolina is scheduled to carry out its first execution in a decade, Circuit Court Judge Joceyln Newman denied a move by two death row inmates’ lawyers to block the new execution law requiring them to choose between the electric chair and the firing squad.
Newman did not issue an injunction to the new law Tuesday, saying the inmates’ lawyers’ claims that the change in the law is unconstitutional had “little likelihood of success.”
Newman’s decision comes about a month after the South Carolina Legislature voted to change the state’s execution law. State lawmakers voted to change the execution law due to the state’s ongoing inability to purchase the necessary drugs to carry out a lethal injection, which some argue is a more humane way to put people to death.
In the 2000’s, drug companies decided to crack down on how their drugs are being used and stopped selling drugs commonly used in lethal injections to state corrections departments. That, coupled with a portion of an old execution law that made the lethal injection the default method of execution, ground the state’s ability to execute Death Row inmates to a halt. Under the old South Carolina law, if an inmate did not explicitly choose to die in the electric chair, the state could not kill them that way.
In May, the Legislature voted to change the state’s execution law so it could resume carrying out executions. Under the new law, the electric chair is the default method of execution, but if the firing squad or the lethal injection are available, inmates can choose those.
Currently, the Department of Corrections only has the ability to carry out an execution using the electric chair, meaning the department is slated to use the chair in an execution for the first time since 2008.
Lawyers for the inmates, the Department of Corrections and the governor met in court Monday to argue whether the change in the law is constitutional.
The inmates’ attorneys argued that the retroactive nature of the law, which makes it apply to inmates sentenced to death before the law was changed, is unconstitutional because it forces inmates to die by a more painful method. They also questioned why the state could not obtain the drugs for a lethal injection and why it could not offer the firing squad as a method of execution.
Attorneys for the governor and the Department of Corrections argued inmates were sentenced to death, but not by a particular method. They also argued that there are some signs that show the lethal injection may not be the most humane method of execution.
The two inmates — Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens — have another outstanding lawsuit that may delay their executions. The pair challenged whether the electric chair is constitutional under the Eighth Amendment, which protects from cruel and unusual punishment. The case is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in a Florence federal courtroom.
Both Sigmon and Owens are scheduled to be executed by the end of the month. Two weeks ago, a court scheduled Sigmon’s execution for June 18, and last week, Owens’ execution was scheduled for June 25.
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