While it can be a controversial topic, South Carolina has the death penalty. This has been the law in our state for a very long time. There are two ways for this punishment to be carried out: by electrocution or by lethal injection. Under current state law, a person sentenced to death may choose which method is used for execution. Right now, the drugs used for lethal injection are not available. This means that death row inmates can choose lethal injection knowing that this is a punishment that will likely never happen. Simply put, they are using a loophole in the law to turn a death sentence into a life sentence.
I have introduced two bills designed to correct this issue. One bill makes the second method of execution available if the inmate’s chosen method is not. If an inmate chooses electrocution, but this is not available for any reason at the time of the scheduled execution, then lethal injection may be used. If the necessary drugs are not available for lethal injection at the time of execution, then electrocution will be used. The goal of the bill is for justice to be carried out as determined by the judicial process.
The second bill is commonly referred to as a “shield law.” The bill provides confidentiality to pharmaceutical companies that sell lethal injection drugs to the state. Right now, these companies fear legal challenges and retribution for selling these drugs to states that have the death penalty, so they will not sell them to us. These companies are merely providing the ability to carry out lethal injection and should not be punished for that.
What these bills do not do is revive the debate for discussion about whether we have the death penalty, nor does it debate the methods. It does not “bring back the electric chair” as some have said. The electric chair never went away; it simply has not been chosen as a method in the recent past. My goal with these bills is to ensure that the rule of law is carried out as determined by a jury of our peers after weighing information presented in a court of law.
In a Senate subcommittee recently, we heard testimony from the director of the Department of Corrections, prosecutors, and victims’ families speaking in favor of this legislation. For the Department of Corrections, the inability to execute inmates as prescribed by law violates the department’s mission and is expensive. Prosecutors testified that they are wary of pursuing the death penalty because it is a sentence that cannot be fulfilled. For victims’ families, the pain and anger they feel knowing that death row inmates can get around their sentences is consuming.
This is a miscarriage of justice for the victims and their families. The victims were not given an option when faced with unspeakable pain and terror, before their lives were ended at the hand of another. The victims’ families and friends have to live with that knowledge every day. We owe it to them to fix this so that justice may be served as prescribed.
William Timmons is an attorney, entrepreneur and State Senator for District 6.