The Department of Justice has published a new rule that could allow for the use of more execution methods for federal death sentences. These could include death by electrocution or firing squads.
According to ProPublica, the rule cleared White House review at the beginning of November and will go into effect on Christmas Eve, just weeks before Donald Trump exits the White House. The outlet reports the amended execution protocols are among many changes the Trump administration is racing to push through before the inauguration of Joe Biden, who has been a vocal opponent of the death penalty.
Federal executions are usually carried about by lethal injection; however, judges may permit other methods if he/she believes are more appropriate. An August proposal for the rule argues that death by firing squad and electrocution "do not violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment." Therefore, states are permitted to use alternative methods when lethal injections cannot be obtained on the scheduled execution date.
"The Federal Death Penalty Act provides that a capital sentence in a Federal case is to be implemented 'in the manner prescribed by the law of the State in which the sentence is imposed,'" the rule reads. "... The Department notes that this comment included a recommendation for consideration of alternative methods of execution, such as the firing squad, for prisoners with medical conditions for whom the commenter contended lethal injection would be inappropriate. The Department takes this comment as consistent with the overall purpose of the proposed rule to provide for methods of execution besides lethal injection."
Federal executions resumed in July, after a 17-year hiatus. Eight federal inmates have been executed this year, and five more are scheduled to be executed during the lame-duck period. According to the Press Herald, two of those deaths will be carried out by lethal injection in December. The other three will take place in January; the latest of which will occur just days before Biden's inauguration.
It's worth noting that Biden, who once championed the death penalty, may rescind the rule once he takes office on Jan. 20. T.J. Ducklo, a spokesperson for the Biden transition team, previously told NPR that the former vice president "opposes the death penalty, now and in the future, and as president will work to end its use."