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Idaho Revives Firing Squads

by Kevin W. Bliss

On March 24, 2023, Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) signed HB 186, making his the fifth state to adopt a firing squad as a means of execution. Taking effect July 1, 2023, the law allows the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to use a firing squad whenever the state is unable to obtain drugs necessary for lethal injection.

Idaho follows Mississippi, Utah, Oklahoma and South Carolina in allowing firing squads to supplement execution procedures, prompted by pharmaceutical companies denying sales of their products for the purpose of taking lives. [See: PLN, Nov. 2022, p.20; and Feb. 2023, p.52.] The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) allows the same option at prisons in the five states.

The Idaho bill was sponsored by Rep. Bruce Skaug (R) and Sen. Doug Ricks (R), who said the difficulty in obtaining lethal injection drugs could continue indefinitely, and execution by firing squad is still humane. “This is a rule of law issue,” Ricks said. “Our criminal system should work, and penalties should be exacted.”

Some states have refurbished defunct electric chairs in the wake of the lethal injection drug scarcity. Others have begun experimenting with new drug cocktails. Nebraska’s DOC executed Carey Dean Moore in August 2018 using a mixture combined with fentanyl. Alabama has approved using nitrogen gas to induce hypoxia, though its DOC has yet to design a system [See: PLN, Mar. 2023, p.50.] Former U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr directed BOP to use pentobarbital in executions, but the Justice Department didn’t finish collecting public comments on that plan until November 28, 2022, so implementation remains a way off. All current methods have proven fraught with legal challenges.

Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D) ran on a campaign that included a promise to end the death penalty nationwide. But while current Attorney General Merrick Garland has placed a moratorium on executing BOP prisoners pending legal challenges, Biden has remained largely silent on the issue since his inauguration.

A 2019 court filing claiming firing squads violate the Eighth Amendment guarantee of freedom from cruel and unusual punishment had experts testifying that firing squad victims could remain conscious after being shot for up to 10 seconds – during which they experience excruciating pain related to the shattering of their bones and spinal cord damage.

Idaho state Sen. Dan Foreman (R), an opponent of the legislation, called firing squad executions traumatizing to all involved, including witnesses and those responsible for cleanup. “The use of the firing squad is, in my opinion, beneath the dignity of the state of Idaho,” he said.

Source: AP News