Electric Chair May Make a Comeback in Virginia

The state senate will vote on whether electrocution can be the lone option in death penalty cases.

A view of the death chamber from the witness room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility on Aug. 29, 2001, in Lucasville, Ohio, shows an electric chair and gurney.

Current Virginia law gives death row prisoners the choice between lethal injection and electrocution.

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Virginia would become the only state where prisoners on death row could forcibly be electrocuted if a new bill is passed into law, The Washington Post reports.

The House of Delegates has passed the bill, and it likely will be voted on by the Senate this week. Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, has not indicated whether he will sign or reject the proposed measure, according to his spokesman.

Current state law gives death row prisoners the choice between lethal injection and electrocution. The measure would set electrocution as the chosen method of execution when the drugs used for a lethal injection are not accessible.

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Lethal injection has become a prominent method of execution because other methods, including electrocution, could more easily be seen as conflicting with the Eighth Amendment's ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment, Ian Steadman writes in the New Statesman. However, critics of lethal injection argue that the procedure causes “extreme and unnecessary pain,” that the combination of drugs camouflage this pain and that the method itself is “cruel and unusual,” according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The most common method of execution since 1976, lethal injection typically has involved three specific drugs which when combined, induce death by paralyzing the muscles and stopping the heart. But the pipeline for the combination normally used in the procedure dried up across the country after European producers and ultimately the European Union restricted the sale of drugs for use in executions, according to the Post and Nature

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As a consequence of the boycott, the Post says states have adopted workarounds like a different three-drug combination or a large-dose sedative. But these new methods also have triggered protests from manufacturers, and experimental cocktails have caused complications in some prisoners.

In two years, Virginia has not been able to locate a stable supply of two drug cocktails that could be used, the Post reports.

Capital punishment is legal in 32 states. In contrast, 18 states and Washington, D.C., have abolished the practice, according to the DPIC. In 1982, Texas – which was poised to execute a female inmate on Wednesday – became the first state to use lethal injection as a method of execution.