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Death Penalty Laws by State

The death penalty continues to be a hot-button issue in the United States. Over the years, its viability as a method of punishment has come under fire by numerous groups for various reasons. Should we punish our most serious offenders with the most serious consequence of ending their lives with a death sentence?

Some argue that too many innocent people are wrongly accused and then sentenced to death row. Others still believe that the adage "an eye for an eye" should be our guiding principle when it comes to crime deterrence.

While a 2016 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 49% of Americans supported the death penalty, support ticked up in 2018 to 54% in favor of the death penalty. Support for the death penalty increased further to 60% of American adults in 2021.

Wherever you stand on the issue, keep in mind that each state has its own death penalty laws and ways of implementing them.

Narrowing of the Death Penalty

The U.S. Supreme Court has narrowed the application of the death penalty in several cases. The Court made use of the death penalty as a form of punishment harder across the board.

For instance, in Atkins v. Virginia, the Court found the execution of mentally disabled offenders constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Therefore, such executions violate mentally disabled offender's Eighth Amendment rights.

Additionally, in Roper v. Simmons, the Court established juvenile offenders cannot face the death penalty. This aligns with international human rights, which prohibit a sentence of death for an offender younger than 18 years at the time of the offense.

Methods of Execution

Lethal injection is the primary method of execution in all states which allows for the death penalty. More than a dozen states also use a secondary method of execution, and six states utilize other methods that are available if the offender requests an alternative.

Secondary methods of execution include:

  • Electrocution
  • Lethal gas
  • Hanging
  • Firing squad

Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma approved nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative method to lethal gas for execution in death penalty cases. This induces death by only breathing nitrogen gas.

Alabama is set to be the first state to attempt execution by nitrogen hypoxia. Attorney General Steve Marshall requested an execution warrant for Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, from the Alabama State Supreme Court. In a 6-2 decision, the court approved the warrant for January 25, 2024.

Death Penalty Laws by State

Below you'll find a list of death penalty laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, including whether capital punishment is allowed, the year it was abolished (if applicable), and the approved methods of execution. Remember, capital punishment laws are changing at a rapid pace. Be sure to check with a qualified criminal defense attorney in your area if you or someone you love is facing the death penalty.

State

Death Penalty Allowed?

Approved Method(s) of Execution

Alabama

Yes

Lethal injection with secondary methods if necessary

Alaska

No, abolished in 1957

N/A

Arizona

Yes

Lethal injection with secondary methods in limited circumstances

Arkansas

Yes

Lethal injection with secondary methods in limited circumstances

California

Yes, based on death penalty statutes, but Governor Gavin Newsom put a moratorium on the death penalty in 2011.

Lethal injection with secondary methods in limited circumstances

Colorado

No, abolished in 2020

N/A

Connecticut

No, abolished in 2012 and again in 2016

N/A

Delaware

No, ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2016

N/A

District of Columbia

No, abolished in 1981

N/A

Florida

Yes

Lethal injection with electrocution as an option at the offender's request

Georgia

Yes

Lethal injection

Hawaii

No, abolished in 1957

N/A

Idaho

Yes

Lethal injection

Illinois

No, abolished in 2011

N/A

Indiana

Yes

Lethal injection

Iowa

No, abolished in 1965

N/A

Kansas

Yes

Lethal injection

Kentucky

Yes

Lethal injection; an offender sentenced before the introduction of lethal injection can choose to be electrocuted

Louisiana

Yes

Lethal injection

Maine

No, abolished in 1887

N/A

Maryland

No, abolished in 2013

N/A

Massachusetts

No, ruled unconstitutional by the state's highest court in 1984

N/A

Michigan

No, abolished in 1963

N/A

Minnesota

No, abolished in 1911

N/A

Mississippi

Yes

Lethal injection with secondary methods, if necessary

Missouri

Yes

Lethal injection or gas inhalation

Montana

Yes

Lethal injection

Nebraska

Yes

Lethal injection

Nevada

Yes

Lethal injection

New Hampshire

No, abolished 2019

N/A

New Jersey

No, abolished in 2007

N/A

New Mexico

No, abolished in 2009

N/A

New York

No, abolished in 2007

N/A

North Carolina

Yes

Lethal injection

North Dakota

No, abolished in 1973

N/A

Ohio

Yes

Lethal injection

Oklahoma

Yes

Lethal injection with secondary methods if lethal injection is unavailable

Oregon

Yes, based on statutes, but in 2011 Governor John Kitzhaber placed a moratorium on executions

Lethal injection

Pennsylvania

Yes, based on statutes, but a moratorium was put in place in 2015 and in 2023 Gov. Shapiro called for abolishment

Lethal injection

Rhode Island

No, abolished in 1984

N/A

South Carolina

Yes

Allows prisoners to choose between electrocution, firing squad, and lethal injection

South Dakota

Yes

Lethal injection

Tennessee

Yes

Lethal injection with secondary methods in limited circumstances

Texas

Yes

Lethal injection

Utah

Yes

Lethal injection, with firing squad as a secondary method under certain circumstances

Vermont

No, abolished in 1987

N/A

Virginia

No, abolished in 2021

N/A

Washington

No, ruled unconstitutional in 2018

N/A

West Virginia

No, abolished in 1965

N/A

Wisconsin

No, abolished in 1853

N/A

Wyoming

Yes

Lethal injection with legal gas as a secondary method if legal injection is found unconstitutional

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Need More Information About State Execution Laws? Contact an Attorney

The death penalty is a politically charged topic, but one that transcends academic discussion, particularly if you or someone you know is facing execution. This is a rapidly developing area of the law and one that varies by state and the political climate.

If you're facing a capital offense where the death penalty is a possible punishment or any charge with the possibility of life imprisonment, contact a local criminal defense attorney now. Your attorney may argue mitigating factors to balance any aggravating factors presented by the prosecution.

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