At the same time, with vanishingly few exceptions, lethal injection has become the consensus method used for the dwindling number of executions — the only technique regarded as relatively humane, meaning absent obvious manifestations of the intentional infliction of pain.
Yet as so many states move forward, Virginia is considering a step back. That’s the direction the commonwealth would go if it enacts legislation forcing convicts to die by electric chair if lethal injection drugs cannot be found.The problem with lethal injection is that fewer and fewer pharmaceutical companies are willing to sell drugs to state correctional departments for use in the death penalty. I get it. If lethal injection is the preferred method in a state, and they can't get the drugs to implement the execution, there's a problem right there.
I'm not a death-penalty abolitionist. I believe that the death penalty has a place in society, but I believe that it has been misapplied in some cases, and botched in others. Then there is the inconvenient (I'm using sarcasm here) problem with the Eighth Amendment, which says:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.I'm no lawyer, but I understand plain English. My high school teachers were very precise in their instruction about the use of conjunctions. By my reading of that amendment, a punishment must both be cruel AND unusual to be unconstitutional. It might be cruel, but not unusual, or it might be unusual, but not cruel and still be perfectly constitutional. Any constitutional lawyer or judge who tells you differently is simply illiterate and not applying the plain meaning of the sentence. Or, they're making the argument that the death penalty should be abolished on other grounds. They're free to make that argument, of course, but the simple language of the Eighth Amendment doesn't support it on grounds of high school English.
The Amendment is plain. If anything their argument is fuzzy. If they want to amend the constitution, they're free to do so.
However, the plain meaning of the sentence has been corrupted by several decades of legal thought, and the death penalty is so seldom used that it might now be thought unusual to even profess a desire for a state to want to use it. The electric chair at one time was simply not unusual, but many consider it cruel because of the well-publicized botched executions using that method.
I would argue that hanging is an effective method. It's low cost, relatively pain-free when done properly and certainly not unusual. Many countries still use hanging as a method of execution, and while it may be considered barbaric, it is certainly not unusual when considered in worldwide usage.
Another method that I don't see anyone talk about is carbon monoxide poisoning. People die from that all the time. By all accounts, one simply goes to sleep. It should be easy enough to rig up a carbon monoxide chamber.
If Virginia wants to continue to use the death penalty, that's okay with me. But, I think that there are better alternatives than the electric chair.