Death Penalty in Flux

Executions were halted in all states in September 2007 because of challenges to the lethal injection process. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Baze v. Rees, a lethal injection challenge from Kentucky. Executions resumed in some states, but are on hold for various reasons in other states. Legislative reform or proposed repeal of the death penalty are under consideration in many states (see below).

States with Executions on Hold

See also DPIC's Lethal Injection page; many states have delayed executions because of a shortage of execution drugs.

Click here for 2015 Legislation

Statements from Governors Recently Halting Executions


Executions on Hold*


Last execution: 1/2006

Executions halted because of lethal injection issue

Referendum on repealing the death penalty defeated Nov. 2012

In 2014 a federal District Court held the state's death penalty unconstitutional due to its arbitrariness. Ruling only affects one case, but the state is appealing, which could broaden the impact. Click here for relevant filings. Hearing in 9th Cir. on Aug. 31, 2015.

Executions stayed by state and federal courts.

A proposed referendum for 2014 that would alter the appeals process and bypass public review of execution protocol did not receive enough signatures.

DE FACTO MORATORIUM: State abandoned defense of its old lethal injection process and will develop a new single-drug protocol. The changes to the prior lethal injection procedures were not in compliance with the state Administrative Procedures Act.  A large supply of sodium thiopental was obtained from Great Britain, but can no longer be used. Federal judge conducting a review of state's current system.  State's Chief Justice said executions not likely to resume unitl 2016.


Last: 1997

On May 22, 2013, Gov. John Hickenlooper indefinitely stayed the scheduled execution of Nathan Dunlap, calling for a reconsideration of the entire death penalty. Earlier in 2013, the legislature had considered a repeal bill, but it was withdrawn.
Gov. Hickenlooper re-elected in Nov. 2014.
MORATORIUM: Although the governor did not mention other cases, he called for a reconsideration of the death penalty. Since the indefinite stay was not related to facts about Dunlap, it would appear to apply to all future executions.

North Carolina

Last: 8/2006

Executions effectively halted because of lethal injection issue and questions about applicability of Racial Justice Act. State judge stayed upcoming executions in 2007

DE FACTO MORATORIUM: State judge ruled that Medical Board cannot forbid physician participation. Executions on hold while lethal injection issues are resolved. In 2013, Racial Justice Act was repealed and attempt was made to fix lethal injection issues. Appeals continue.

State passed Restoring Proper Justice Act, imposing secrecy regarding lethal drugs and allowing non-physicians to carry out executions (2015). No dates set.


Last: 11/2008

KY Supreme Court held on Nov. 25, 2009 that new lethal injection protocol had not been properly reviewed under the state's Administrative Procedures Act. All executions on hold while courts review whether new protocol complies with the law.
DE FACTO MORATORIUM: Judge questioning completeness of new protocol. In 2013, new drug protocol adopted. Next hearing to review protocol set for Sept. 22, 2014.


Last: 9/2010

On Feb. 11, 2014, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on all executions for the remainder of his term.

Lethal injection challenge also unresolved

Capital prosecutions may continue. MORATORIUM: The governor has called for a debate on the death penalty.
last: 7/1999
Governor Tom Wolf announced a reprieve on all executions on Feb. 13, 2015 while the system is studied.
Earlier, in 2014, then-Governor Tom Corbett granted a reprieve halting the execution of Hubert Michael because the state did not have the lethal injection drugs.
MORATORIUM: Legislatively mandated study under way.
State Supreme Court will review governor's power to issue broad reprieve of death sentences; stays of execution remain in place.


Last: 5/1997

On Nov. 22, 2011, Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a moratorium on all executions for the remainder of his term. Kitzhaber resignation effective Feb. 18, 2015. The new gov., Kate Brown, will continue moratorium. Gov. Kitzhaber re-elected Nov. 2014. Resigned Feb. 2015. MORATORIUM: Governor Kitzhaber called for a debate on the death penalty.  State may require a referendum to end the death penalty.
last 2010
Lethal injection procedure under review   Reviewing court has put off all executions until at least July 2016.
last 2015
U.S. Sup. Ct. granted cert. in lethal inj. challenge in 2015. All executions stayed. Sup. Ct. approved use of midazolam (6/29/15). Exec. set for Sept. 16, 2015 stayed because state obtained incorrect drug. All executions on hold. Investigation under way to determine how stayed obtained incorrect drug. Sup. Ct. allowed the continued use of midazolam in lethal injections (June 29, 2015). Three dates set; all stayed.


Last: 11/2005

Lethal injection of Jack Jones, scheduled for Mar. 16, 2010, was indefinitely stayed by federal court. Eight execution dates set for late 2015 and 2016. Lethal injection challenge filed.

Court of appeals refused to lift stay and governor halted the preparations for execution.

Ark. Sup. Ct. found new execution protocol constitutional (2015).

Ark. Sup. Ct. stayed executions in 2011 because of lethal injection challenges.  On June 22, 2012, the Ark. Sup. Ct. held that Methods of Execution Act of 2009 was unconstitutional because it delegated too much authority to the Dept. of Corrections. Legislation in 2013 restricted DOC authority in choosing drugs and new law was upheld in 2015.
New Mexico
last 2001
DEATH PENALTY ABOLISHED on Mar. 18, 2009 Legislature approved and governor signed bill replacing death penalty with life in prison without parole 2 INMATES REMAIN ON DEATH ROW.  Executions are theoretically possible but years of appeals remain.
last 1997
DEATH PENALTY ABOLISHED on May 27, 2015 (effective in 90 days). Intent of legislation is to bar execution of those still on death row as well as for future crimes, but constitutionality of retroactive application is in question. Referendum on repeal scheduled for Nov. 2016. Proponents of death penalty secured sufficient signatures to require a referendum in 2016.

New lethal injection law being challenged in courts.  June 14, 2011 execution of Carey Moore stayed by Neb. Sup. Ct.  New execution date set for different inmate on Mar. 6, 2012 but also stayed. In 2014, Attorney Gen. said death penalty in limbo due to lack of execution drugs. Governor has tried to obtain drugs overseas, but importation has been blocked.

Likely referendum on death penalty repeal in 2016.

last 2006
executions effectively halted because of lethal injection issue; State Supreme Court stayed execution of volunteer William Castillo to review lethal injection status unclear
last 2009
all executions stayed in 2010 and 2011; legislation passed allowing the electric chair if drugs for lethal injection can not be found
courts are reviewing lethal injection protocol status unclear. State announced a 1-drug protocol using pentobarbital. Numerous dates set for 2014, but stays have been granted. Protocol upheld by Tenn. court in Aug. 2015, but executions stayed.
last 2009
executions on hold in 2011 state lacks execution drug state may have to change to alternative drug
last 2006
lethal injection challenge; executions on hold Sept. 6, 2012 ruling found protocol unconstitl.
Oct. 6, 2015 ruling found revised drug protocol to be unlawful.
Court identified 3 problems that may be easily remedied, though no action has been taken on 1 of these for 4 yrs. New execution protocol involving 2 drugs released in 2013. In 2015, Court found proposed use of pentobarbital unlawful because it is not an ultra fast acting barbiturate.
last 2014
Lethal injection procedure under review Federal District Court judge reviewing new execution protocol No executions until at least 2016.
last 2013
Lethal injection procedure under review. Last non-voluntary execution in 2011.
Execution set for Feb. 19, 2015 was stayed.
Secrecy law rejected. State plans to use 3-drug process including midazolam. State legislator said no executions likely until March or April 2015 because the state does not have the lethal drugs and needs new legislation regarding secrecy.
last 2014
Lethal injection procedure under review following botched execution on July 23, 2014 Attorney General announced executions are on hold while investigation is conducted No executions set.
last 2015
Florida Sup. Ct. stayed pending execution in 2015 because of U.S. Sup. Ct. review of Okla. lethal injections. Sup. Ct. approved use of midazolam; no dates set. (6/29/15) Florida uses the same drugs as Okla. See Okla. above. U.S. Sup. Ct. reviewing sentencing process (2015).
South Carolina
last 2011
State unable to obtain 2 of 3 drugs used in execution protocol Secrecy bill regarding source of lethal drugs defeated in committee (2015) Status unclear; no dates set
last 2012
Federal District Court stayed executions in Aug. 2015 until there is a hearing on constitutionality of proposed drugs.    
last 2003
Last 4 execution dates stayed because of lethal injection issue. stays granted by federal District Court status unclear; Justice Dept. had requested an execution date for Jeffrey Paul, claiming he is not part of lethal injection suit, but no date has been set

*States are listed as "Executions on Hold" if executions were placed on hold either by court or executive order and the final resolution of that dispute has not been ruled on by the highest appropriate court.

Ohio began a study of its death penalty system in 2011.  Pennsylvania began a study in 2012.  California, North Carolina, Maryland, New Hampshire and Tennessee have conducted studies of their death penalty process in recent years. A Nevada commission is reviewing a variety of criminal justice issues, including the death penalty. Indiana is studying legislation that would exempt seriously mentally ill defendants from the death penalty.  

For more information, see DPIC's Lethal Injection and Recent Legislative Activity Web pages. First posted February 6, 2007; updates as required.