Friday, September 9, 2022

South Carolina judge declares electric chair and firing squad unconstitutional

South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Jocelyn Newman ruled that the state’s planned use of a firing squad and an electric chair for executions was unconstitutional, reported Jurist. This ruling grants relief to four death row inmates.

Freddie Eugene Owens, Brad Keith Sigmon, Gary Dubose Terry, and Richard Bernard Moore were all convicted of committing at least one murder and sentenced to death. After the convictions, South Carolina passed Bill 200, which changed the default method of execution in the state to electrocution. The law also added a firing squad as an option. In addition, the law could force inmates into execution by the electric chair if they refuse to elect a method of execution. In response to the law, the inmates sued, alleging that death by electrocution and firing squad are unconstitutional under the state’s constitution.

Judge Newman’s order held that electrocution and firing squads violate Article 1 Section 15 of the state’s constitution. South Carolina’s constitution does not allow cruel, unusual, or corporal punishment. Corporal regards mutilation of the human body. The order held that using Bill 200 would violate ex post facto laws of the state and federal Constitution. Ex post facto prohibits “law that changes the punishment, inflicts a greater punishment than the law annexed to the crime, when committed.” The order also held that the statute was unconstitutionally vague and violated the plaintiffs’ due process rights.

The ruling found Bill 200 unconstitutional and vague and permanently enjoined the defendants from forcing the four plaintiffs to be executed by electrocution or firing squad. Earlier this year, the South Carolina Supreme Court blocked the state from committing a firing squad execution.

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