New Justice Department rules allow for the use of more methods for federal executions, including firing squad and electrocution. The new regulation will be published Friday as the administration rushes to execute five prisoners before the end of President Donald Trump’s term. DOJ has not indicated that it plans to execute inmates by a manner other than lethal injection, the only method of federal executions in decades. As lethal injection has come under increasing legal assault, the Supreme Court has rejected challenges to it. President-elect Joe Biden opposes the federal death penalty. With three planned executions, the Trump administration will have put 13 prisoners to death since July, one of the deadliest periods in the history of federal capital punishment.
All states with the death penalty allow execution by lethal injection. Some authorize other means. Alabama allows prisoners to elect a death by electrocution or nitrogen hypoxia (a lethal dose of gas). Utah allows firing squads if substances for lethal injection are unavailable. States have struggled to obtain suitable drugs for lethal injection protocols. Several years ago, reports of botched executions, with prisoners gasping or writhing in pain, prompted new scrutiny of the death penalty. The new federal rule concerns how the federal government must comply with state execution protocols. The Federal Death Penalty Act requires executions to be carried out “in the manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence is imposed.” In reviving the death penalty under the Trump administration, the Justice Department declined to use the three-drug cocktail it had once used and introduced a protocol using a single drug, pentobarbital. Ruth Friedman of the Federal Capital Habeas Project, who represented the first man executed by the Trump administration, called the new rule a “grand arrogation of power.”