DOJ rule change makes possible the carrying out of federal executions by firing squad, poison gas, and more

Attorney General William Barr’s Department of Justice (DOJ) hasn’t just brought back federal executions, but it appears to also be trying to bring back alternative methods for carrying out these executions.

The Associated Press reports that the DOJ recently amended execution protocols to allow federal death sentence penalties to be carried out by methods other than lethal injection, including by poison gas and by firing squad. 

Under the radar

The rule change, according to the Associated Press, was published in the Federal Register on Friday. But, it will not go into effect until December 24th.

The specific wording allows the federal government to conduct executions by lethal injection or by “any other manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence was imposed.”

Since there are states that allow for the death penalty to be administered by firing squad, by poison gas, or even by electrocution, the Associated Press reported that a federal death sentence could, in theory, use one of these methods.

But, the Associated Press spoke to a DOJ official for its report, and that official clarified that the federal government “will never execute an inmate by firing squad or electrocution unless the relevant state has itself authorized that method of execution.”

The official told the outlet that the change wasn’t so much to give the federal government the opportunity to execute a convicted inmate by a method other than lethal injection, but it was to account for wording in the Federal Death Penalty Act, which states that sentence must be carried out “in the manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence is imposed.”

Barr’s reinstatement of the federal death penalty

Before Attorney General Barr, federal death penalty sentences had not been carried out since 2003. Barr changed that in 2019 with the issuance of new guidelines.

“The American people, acting through Congress and Presidents of both political parties, have long instructed that defendants convicted of the most heinous crimes should be subject to a sentence of death,” he said, adding, “We owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes, and to the families left behind, to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

Thus far, eight inmates have been put to death in 2020. And, Barr has made it clear that federal executions will continue all the way up to Inauguration Day.

Barr recently ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons, despite the protestations of some congressional Democrats, to schedule three more executions, which means between now and mid-January, the federal government is scheduled to execute five inmates.

Despite the recent rule change, those executions are still expected to be carried out by lethal injection.

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