Firing Squad Not a Death Penalty Option in NC

North Carolina is among about half the states in this country that still allow the death penalty for certain convictions.

Our neighbor South Carolina has received considerable media attention about one of their death row inmates asking to be executed by firing squad. This is the first request for this method since the Palmetto State enacted a law in May 2021 that allowed for firing squads. The new law was passed amid a shortage of lethal injection drugs.

Executions were effectively put on hold in South Carolina because death row inmates were choosing lethal injection as their method. The 2021 law removed lethal injection as an option and instead forced prisoners to choose either the electric chair or firing squad.

North Carolina assumed responsibility for executing prisoners in 1910. Since that time, no one in North Carolina has ever been put to death by firing squad. Lethal injection is the only capital punishment method currently in use in the Tarheel State.

The Death Penalty in North Carolina

A first-degree murder conviction is now the only offense eligible for the death penalty. That wasn’t always the case. Until the mid-1900s, someone could also be sentenced to death for rape, burglary, and arson. The state passed a new death penalty statute in 1977 to bifurcate the conviction and penalty phases.

Based on U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the state removed the death penalty as a possible sentence for sex offenses. Later changes included disallowing the application of the death sentence to those who are guilty only as accomplices to felony murder. Intellectually disabled prisoners cannot be put to death. Prosecutors were required to seek the death penalty in certain murder cases, but now they can decline to do so.

There are currently 134 inmates on the state’s death row. The longest-serving death row inmate was given the death sentence in 1985. Lethal injection has been the only method of execution in North Carolina since 1998 when lethal gas was removed as an option.

There is currently a pause in executions in the state. North Carolina’s last execution was in August 2006.

First-Degree Murder in the Tarheel State

North Carolina law defines first-degree murder as a Class A felony:

“A murder which shall be perpetrated by means of a nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon of mass destruction as defined in G.S. 14-288.21, poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or which shall be committed in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of any arson, rape or a sex offense, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, or other felony committed or attempted with the use of a deadly weapon shall be deemed to be murder in the first degree, a Class A felony, and any person who commits such murder shall be punished with death or imprisonment in the State's prison for life without parole as the court shall determine pursuant to G.S. 15A-2000, except that any such person who was under 18 years of age at the time of the murder shall be punished in accordance with Part 2A of Article 81B of Chapter 15A of the General Statutes.”

The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the first-degree murder definition. The murder must be proven to have resulted from deliberate and premeditated actions. A homicide that was perpetrated in the heat of passion or self-defense would not constitute a Class A felony.

Capital Punishment Around the United States

Richard Bernard Moore, 57, was convicted in the 1999 murder of Spartanburg convenience store clerk James Mahoney. His originally scheduled execution in 2020 was delayed because the state couldn’t obtain lethal injection drugs.

If his execution occurs as scheduled on April 29, 2022, he would be the first person executed in South Carolina since 2011 and only the fourth person to die in the U.S. by firing squad in about 50 years.

South Carolina is one of only four states that allow death by firing squad:

  • Mississippi
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Utah

Some states use the electric chair to execute prisoners:

  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Kentucky
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee

Mississippi and Oklahoma allow for electrocution if other methods are unavailable. Washington state and New Hampshire (New Hampshire abolished the death penalty in 2019 but did not make the law retroactive leaving one prisoner on death row) also carry out death sentences by hanging.

States without the death penalty are the following:

  • Alaska
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Texas, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida are the states with the most executions since 2015.

Aggressive Defense Against Violent Crime Charges

A violent crime charge is the most serious anyone can face. Your entire future, and maybe even your life, can be on the line. You need an attorney who will uncover every potential defense and fight tooth and nail for you. At Jetton & Meredith, we are up for that battle.

We offer a targeted defense strategy based on the charges and the details of the case:

When you need strong criminal defense in Mecklenburg County, schedule a consultation at (704) 931-5535 or reach us online.