Capital punishment is currently authorized in 27 states, by the federal government and the U.S. military. In recent years, New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2011), Connecticut (2012), Maryland (2013), New Hampshire (2019), Colorado (2020) and Virginia (2021) have legislatively abolished the death penalty, replacing it with a sentence of life imprisonment with no possibility for parole. The Nebraska Legislature also abolished capital punishment in 2015, but it was reinstated by a statewide vote in 2016. Additionally, courts in Washington and Delaware recently ruled that the states' capital punishment laws are unconstitutional. States across the country will continue to debate its fairness, reliability and cost of implementation.
Recent State Enactments
Since 2015, 25 states enacted 66 new laws addressing state systems of capital punishment. Trends include expanding or limiting aggravating factors, modifying execution methods and procedures, changing trial and appellate procedures, modifying laws to comply with litigation outcomes and repealing the practice all together. Search recent enactments by topic, state, year, and keyword with NCSL's Capital Punishment Enactment Database.
Methods of Execution
Lethal injection is currently the primary method of execution in 28 of the 29 states that authorize executions. Texas was the first state to use the method, in 1982.
In 2021, South Carolina became the first state to depart from using lethal injection as a primary execution method. It is the only state in which electrocution is primary, with firing squad and lethal injection, authorized by statute as secondary methods of execution.
In addition to South Carolina, 15 other states have a secondary method of execution authorized by statute. Laws in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming provide a secondary option if lethal injection is found to be unconstitutional and/or unavailable. Arizona*, Kentucky, Tennessee and Utah all have a choice of secondary methods for offenders who were sentenced before the introduction of lethal injection. And Alabama, California*, Florida, Missouri, Virginia and Washington have other methods that are available if the offender requests an alternative. Secondary methods of execution include electrocution, lethal gas, hanging, nitrogen hypoxia, and firing squad.
*See case law in each state to determine the constitutionality of secondary methods. For example, see La Grand v. Stewart, 173 F.3d 1144 (1999).
The purple states only have a single method: lethal injection. Blue states have secondary methods of execution. Click on those states to display details on secondary methods. The gray states do not have capital punishment.
Note that Colorado and New Hampshire prospectively abolished capital punishment. In Colorado, the governor commuted the sentences of those on death row, but defendants with pending cases at the time of abolition are still eligible for execution and the execution statute is still valid. In New Hampshire one individual remains on death row.