Alabama’s legislature approved a novel execution method Tuesday. Nitrogen gas could potentially be used to carry out death sentences. State representatives overwhelmingly approved the measure.
Drug companies are distancing themselves executions. It’s become difficult for the state to procure the necessary chemicals. That’s why legislators are interested in using nitrogen gas.
“It would simply put him to sleep. It’s humane. It’s quick, and it’s painless,” Rep. Jim Hill said.
The method has never been tried before, so critics argue that there’s no way to tell for sure that it’s painless.
Rep. Thomas Jackson warned that the state’s plan was akin to bringing back “the gas chamber.”
Capital punishment is a contentious issue. Many states have outlawed it completely, others keep the laws on the books but haven’t actually sentenced anyone to death in years.
Alabama has dozens of people on death row. The state is one of the few in the country that allows judges to sentence convicts to death. Alabama law allows for a judicial override, meaning that a judge has the power to sentence someone to death even if the jury disagrees.
The state’s decision to move toward nitrogen gas executions is less controversial than its decision to impose the death penalty, to begin with.
“Legal issues around execution methods tend to raise questions about the morality of the death penalty generally — whether the state should be in the business of doing this to people,” Phyllis Goldfarb, a George Washington University law professor, said.
“Issues about whether a certain execution method is cruel and unusual punishment tend to raise questions about whether the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. They tend to be proxy for each other, so judges don’t feel they can pass judgment on the lawfulness of the death penalty generally.”
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