South Carolina's Death Penalty Laws Bode Poorly For Dylann Roof If He's Found Guilty

The capture and arrest of Dylann Roof, who allegedly opened fire in a Charleston church and killed nine people Wednesday evening, may lead to what could be South Carolina's first execution since 2011. Gov. Nikki Haley has openly called for Roof to be executed by the state if found guilty, although the state has struggled to find the requisite execution drugs of late. If South Carolina's death penalty laws and history are any indication, however, Roof may very well be facing his choice of either electrocution or lethal injection if convicted. South Carolina is one of the few states that presents both options to death row inmates.

Just this April, Republican Representative Joshua Putnam proposed a potential bill that would add death by fire squad as an additional option. That bill has yet to be up for vote. Putnam originally presented the bill due to the fact that it had become increasingly more difficult and expensive to acquire the proper drugs for lethal injections. For that reason, it appears that executions have slowed substantially in a state that has seen a staggering 282 performed since 1912, according to the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Initial early records show dozens of executions occurring every decade from 1912-1960. That rate has slowed substantially since the death penalty was reinstated nationally following Furman v. Georgia in 1972. The most recent execution in South Carolina was in 2011 by lethal injection and was the only one performed that year.

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As of this writing, there are 44 death row inmates at the Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia. According to Title 16 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, the death penalty is only eligible for those who are convicted of murder. In many cases, statutory circumstances such as intent and prior convictions heavily contributed to the death penalty being sought. Unlike mitigating circumstances such as mental disturbance or impairment, statutory circumstances tend to reinforce harsher sentences. Though there is no minimum age to be sentenced to death in South Carolina, crimes committed by someone under the age of 18 is considered a mitigating circumstance. If capital punishment is not sought, then a minimum sentence of thirty years to life without parole is instead considered.

According to Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham, seeking such a harsh punishment may not be the most respectful option given the forgiving attitude of victims' families. Said Dunham to Channel News Asia:

When you have victims whose lives where about peace and inclusiveness and whose families have called for forgiveness and mercy, seeking the death penalty against their will could amount to further victimization by the system.

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