Death Penalty in Flux

Executions are on hold in many states as a result of governor-imposed moratoria and concerns surrounding lethal injection drugs and problematic executions. The table below describes the reasons for holds in various states.

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

Click here for Recent Legislative Developments

Statements from Governors Recently Halting Executions

 

Governor-Imposed Moratorium 
STATE REASON FOR HOLD DEVELOPMENTS CURRENT STATUS
Colorado
Last execution 10/13/1997
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 Earlier in 2013, the legislature had considered a repeal bill, but it was withdrawn.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.
Oregon
Last execution
5/16/1997

 

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 governor, Kate Brown, will continue moratorium. Gov. Kitzhaber re-elected Nov. 2014. Resigned Feb. 2015. Gov. Kate Brown finished Kitzhaber's term and was re-elected in 2016. MORATORIUM: Governor Kitzhaber called for a debate on the death penalty. State may require a referendum to end the death penalty.
Pennsylvania
Last execution 7/6/1999
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.
 
Capital prosecutions unaffected by gubernatorial reprieves.
MORATORIUM: Legislatively mandated study under way.
 
On Dec. 21, 2015, the State Supreme Court unanimously upheld the governor's power to issue a broad reprieve of death sentences; stays of execution remain in place.
Washington
Last execution
9/10/2010
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.
Formal Hold by Court Order 
Arizona
Last execution 7/23/2014
 
Lethal injection procedure under review following botched execution on July 23, 2014 Attorney General announced executions are on hold while investigation is conducted.  FORMAL HOLD: Executions placed on hold per court order during pending lethal injection litigation. 
Arkansas
Last execution 11/28/2005
Eight execution dates set for late 2015 and 2016. All stayed by Ark. Sup. Ct. due to lethal injection challenge (Oct. 20, 2015).
Ark. Sup. Ct. found new execution protocol constitutional (2015).
FORMAL HOLD: 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.
Delaware
Last execution 4/20/2012
On Feb. 1, 2016, the President of the state's Superior Court declared a hold on all trials, penalty hearings, and other matters in pending capital cases until the state Supreme Court can rule on the constitutionality of the state's death penalty in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling overturning Florida's sentencing scheme in Hurst v. Florida. Delaware Supreme Court struck down death penalty statute on August 2, 2016, and ruled on December 15, 2016, that its ruling applies retroactively to those already sentenced to death. FORMAL HOLD, NO VALID DEATH PENALTY STATUTE. Legislature could act to reinstate the death penalty, but such action seems unlikely. Death penalty abolition bills passed the state Senate in 2013 and 2015, and narrowly failed in the House earlier this year, and Governor Jack Markell has expressed support for abolishing the death penalty and "applaud[ed] the Supreme Court's finding that the state's death penalty law is unconstitutional."
Louisiana
Last execution 1/7/2010
Lethal injection procedure under review State has no current protocol.  FORMAL HOLD: Executions on hold per court order until at least January 2018. 
Montana
Last execution 8/11/2006
Lethal injection challenge; executions on hold Sept. 6, 2012 ruling found protocol unconstitl.
Oct. 6, 2015 ruling found revised drug protocol to be unlawful.
FORMAL HOLD: 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 October 2015, state court found proposed use of pentobarbital unlawful because it is not an ultra-fast acting barbiturate. 
Oklahoma
Last: 1/15/2015
Following the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014, Oklahoma then used incorrect drug in the execution of Charles Warner and was going to use same incorrect drug in the attempted execution of Richard Glossip. The Attorney General ordered grand jury investigation into circumstances surrounding execution problems. 
Investigation and litigation ongoing to determine how state obtained incorrect drug and what protocol the state will use.

 

FORMAL HOLD: Executions placed on hold per court order during pending lethal injection litigation. 
De Facto Moratorium (no executions in at least 5 years, none currently scheduled) 
California
Last execution: 1/17/2006
Executions halted because of lethal injection issue.
 
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 appealed. Click here for relevant filings. Reversed by 9th Cir. on Aug. 31, 2015 on procedural grounds.

 

Executions stayed by state and federal courts.
Referendum on repealing the death penalty defeated Nov. 2012
 
Competing referenda appeared on the 2016 ballot. Proposition 62, to repeal the death penalty, failed 54% to 46%. Proposition 66, to curtail the appeals process, passed 51% to 49%.
DE FACTO MORATORIUM: State abandoned defense of its old lethal injection process and will develop a new single-drug protocol. State has proposed giving the Department of Corrections the choice of using 1 of 4 drugs for lethal injections. Public hearing held in Jan.; comments can be submitted until Feb. 22 (extended 3 times, now until July 2016).

A large supply of sodium thiopental was obtained from Great Britain, but has since expired and can no longer be used.

State agency rejected proposed execution protocol in December 2016. Department of Corrections has 4 months to revise.

Indiana
Last execution 12/11/2009
 
Executions on hold in 2011 State lacks execution drug DE FACTO MORATORIUM
Kentucky
Last execution
11/21/2008
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
Nebraska
Last execution 12/2/1997
Death penalty abolished by legislature on May 27, 2015. Ballot referendum to reinstate the death penalty passed, 61%-39%.   DE FACTO MORATORIUM: In 2014, Attorney Gen. said death penalty in limbo due to lack of execution drugs. Governor tried to obtain drugs overseas, but importation has been blocked. 
Nevada
Last execution 4/26/2006
 
Executions effectively halted because of lethal injection issue. State Supreme Court stayed execution of volunteer William Castillo to review lethal injection DE FACTO MORATORIUM
North Carolina
Last execution
8/18/2006
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.

South Carolina
Last execution 5/6/2011
State unable to obtain 2 of 3 drugs used in execution protocolA Secrecy bill regarding source of lethal drugs defeated in committee (2015) DE FACTO MORATORIUM
Tennessee
Last execution 12/2/2009
 
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 DE FACTO MORATORIUM
Federal
Last execution 3/18/2003
Last 4 execution dates stayed because of lethal injection litigation.  Stays granted by federal District Court DE FACTO MORATORIUM

 


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