By Caleb Larkin
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY – Members of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Capitol Hill recommended a bill to allow firing squads as a back-up plan for capital punishment for further consideration by the House of Representatives.
The Death Penalty Procedure Amendments, HB11, will allow for the firing squad as an alternative execution method should chemicals for a lethal injection be unavailable.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, the bill’s sponsor, believes that allowing for a backup plan is “just good governance.”
“We are adding the method of firing squad if the state cannot obtain the chemicals for lethal injections,” Ray said in the meeting. “Despite the common belief, this is actually a small change to what’s currently in the code.”
There are nine individuals on death row in Utah. According to Ray, death by firing squad takes between three and five seconds for the convict to die. Still, an NBC poll reports that only 12 percent of Americans currently support the firing squad as a method of execution.
Those opposed to the bill seemed intent on discussing whether executions should be legal at all. “The bill is significant enough already to garner a lot of negative publicity due to the barbaric nature of the method,” said Anna Brower, Public Policy Advocate of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. “The ACLU’s position is that all current methods of execution violate the 8th Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.”
According to Brower, location, attorneys, and race are the biggest factors in determining whether an individual will be sentenced to death.
Examples of botched lethal injections in Oklahoma and Ohio have exposed executions to public scrutiny. Ray explained that frequently, chemicals used in lethal injection are imported from Europe. Many of those countries do not support the death penalty and have recently refused to ship the chemicals.
Utah does not currently have the necessary chemicals to administer lethal injection, Ray told the committee.
Members of the committee agreed a backup plan is necessary, however, many were unconvinced that a firing squad was the best option.“It seems to me there should be a more humane way of executing someone besides a firing squad,” said Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan.
Kent Hart, Executive Director of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, quoted from the Death Penalty Information Center’s description of execution by firing squad to illustrate the “barbaric” method.
“This is a worst case scenario. There is no humane way to take a life. It’s a bad thing. But these people that are being put to death are being put to death for a reason,” said Ray. The bill has been placed on the House time certain calendar for Friday, Feb. 13 at 11:20 am.