COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Supreme Court ordered a lower court to collect more information from the Department of Corrections regarding the state agency's attempts to acquire lethal injection drugs.
The Thursday order means that it could be four more months until justices decide whether a newly organized firing squad or the electric chair are legal methods of execution in the state.
The order reversed a previous ruling that denied the plaintiffs’ request for such information from the circuit court, which Chief Justice Donald Beatty wrote “abused its discretion.”
“Inmates’ discovery requests regarding lethal injection are particularly relevant and reasonable in light of the fact that, for over ten years, other states have continued to perform executions using lethal injection, rather than electrocution and the firing squad,” Beatty wrote.
The high court found it impossible “to evaluate the State’s assessment that such drugs are not ‘available’ in South Carolina” without such information. The justices said state lawyers failed to answer how or when South Carolina officials had sought the drugs during oral arguments earlier this month.
The Department of Corrections has 60 days to provide that information to the circuit court, which will then have 60 more days to conduct any additional hearings and present the findings to the South Carolina Supreme Court.
South Carolina — previously one of the most prolific states of its size when it came to capital punishment — has not killed anyone on death row since May 2011. Its batch of lethal injection drugs expired in 2013.
Four condemned prisoners challenged a 2021 law that forced them to choose between the electric chair or a newly formed firing squad signed by Gov. Henry McMaster in hopes the state could then restart its executions after the involuntary pause.
The issue received extra attention from McMaster in his State of the State speech last night. The governor called on lawmakers to pass a shield law protecting the identities of the companies making lethal injection drugs — a solution he said would free the companies to sell them to South Carolina without fear of public rebuke.
The death penalty has remained under near constant scrutiny throughout the United States. Late last year, Tennessee issued a report finding the state had used lethal injection drugs that hadn’t been properly tested, abandoning 2018 guidelines.