- 2015 Session
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The Firing Squad in Utah
Adapted from the House floor debate on the bill.
House Bill 11 (sponsored by Representative Ray, Senate sponsored by Senator Hinkins) is a proposed law that would allow the state to carry out a capital sentence by means of a firing squad if a Court determines that the State is unable to use lethal injection prior to the execution.
Prior to 2004, a defendant sentenced to death in Utah could choose the option to be executed by firing squad. In 2004, the law was changed to eliminate this choice and make lethal injection the sole method of execution. If HB11 is passed, lethal injection would still be the primary means of carrying out a capital sentence, however, if lethal injection is declared unconstitutional or the chemical compounds are not available, we have no plan ‘B’. HB11 provides for this contingency. If for any reason lethal injection cannot be used, then the method would become execution by firing squad.
The reason Representative Ray wants to bring back the firing squad as an option: the European Union recently banned the export of chemicals that can be used for lethal injection. The next execution in our state will not take place for at least four years, but there is a chance that a proper chemical cocktail will not be available for the execution.
Other states have attempted to create their own cocktails which, in cases in Ohio and Oklahoma, resulted in botched, excruciatingly long executions.
Proponents insist that HB11 is not about the Death Penalty in general, but is about the method of execution. Though death by firing squad has been referred to as barbaric, in the minds of many there is no better alternative to lethal injection. Throughout our history as a nation, we have used other methods: gas chamber, hanging, and the electric chair. None of these options are considered to be a suitable or humane alternative to lethal injection.
Opponents believe the state is lending its endorsement to an outdated, cruel form of punishment. What will such a change say about the people of Utah? On some level, an endorsement of a method of execution is an endorsement of the capital punishment itself. If the death penalty is immoral, then all its manifestations are immoral as well. Furthermore, participating in a firing squad is an emotionally scarring experience for our public servants. Do we want to put them through that? Lastly, If Utah were to reinstate this form of execution, it would be one of only two states (the other is Oklahoma) to currently use it.
Two sides to a difficult issue. What is your take? Let us know.
*Contributed by staff.