MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After committee approval, the Alabama State Senate will consider a new bill that would give death-sentenced convicts the option to chose nitrogen gas as an execution method. The bill was approved 6-3 by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, and it is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose).
Current Alabama law allows for those on death row to choose between the electric chair and lethal injection. However, Pittman told the Alabama News Network that nitrogen would be a more humane option than either one on the books.
Oklahoma, the only state that allows execution by nitrogen gas, passed its law in 2015 following the botched lethal injection of Clayton Lockett. In crafting the law, Oklahoma politicians consulted with medial professionals to find a more humane and cost-effective way to administer the death penalty.
The idea of idea of using nitrogen was suggested by Michael Copeland, a criminal justice professor at East Central University. He produced a report with research from doctors that showed that lowering oxygen levels with corresponding levels of nitrogen would lead someone to die within two or three minutes.
“Execution via nitrogen hypoxia is a painless form of capital punishment that is simple to administer, doesn’t depend upon the aid of the medical community, and is not subject to the supply constraints we are faced with when using the current three-drug cocktail protocol,” State Rep. Mike Christian told Time magazine in 2015.
Alabama’s death row population is the fourth largest in the U.S. Several bills in the 2017 legislative sessions seek to address the issue, including one prohibiting judicial override in favor of the death penalty that just passed in the state House of Representatives yesterday.
Capital punishment has existed in the United States since the nation’s founding, and 31 states plus the Federal Government utilize the death penalty as of November of 2016. The death penalty was temporarily suspended nationwide from 1972 to 1976 as a result of the case of Furman v. Georgia, which found that racial bias existed in its application.
The Supreme Court has never ruled the death penalty itself unconstitutional, although the court has decided that it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment to apply it to those who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed.