Should the US execute more prisoners

In addition to lethal injection, the US government wants to allow other methods of execution such as shootings, the electric chair or the use of deadly gas. This emerges from the amendment to a provision for the execution of the death penalty for offenders convicted at the federal level, which was published in the official gazette of the federal government.

From December 24th, according to federal law, criminals sentenced to death can be executed by all methods that are legal in the state in which the death sentence was passed. Executions are mostly carried out by lethal injection. In some states, the laws provide for other options. In Mississippi and Oklahoma, for example, the use of gas, the electric chair and firing squads are generally permitted. A prisoner was executed on the electric chair in Tennessee last December.

It remains to be seen what effects the changes will have in practice. Joe Biden, an avowed opponent of the death penalty, can immediately reverse it and also reinstate the moratorium at the federal level, which had existed for 20 years until July. Trump had enforced the reintroduction of executions at the federal level. Until the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on January 20, the Trump administration plans to kill about five other convicted criminals. Their executions could fall under the new rule.

More executions since July under Trump than since 1927

While many US states are executing the death penalty, there had been no federal executions since 2003. The death penalty has continued to be imposed since then but has not been carried out. The legal battle over the resumption of executions had dragged on to the Supreme Court in Washington, but the government prevailed. The first three executions were carried out by lethal injection in July in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Overall, the death penalty is on the decline in the United States. In many places this has to do with changing public opinion, but also with increasing difficulties in obtaining the necessary substances for lethal injection. In addition, the death penalty tends to lead to lengthy - and costly - legal disputes. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 15 people have been executed in the United States so far in 2020, eight of them at the federal level.

Last week, the Justice Department announced that it would have three other inmates executed on federal death row. If so, then along with two other executions already planned, 13 prisoners will have been killed between July and the end of Trump's office. One of the deadliest periods in the history of the federal death penalty since at least 1927.

Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, said the New York Timesthat it was "a pretty cruel way" to leave office. Attorney General Bill Barr apparently made it his business to "execute as many federal prisoners as possible before his term of office is over".