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 Recent Legislative Developments

Statements from Governors Recently Halting Executions

 

Executions on Hold*
STATE REASON FOR HOLD DEVELOPMENTS CURRENT STATUS
California
Last execution: 1/2006
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
A proposed referendum for 2014 that would alter the appeals process and bypass public review of execution protocol did not receive enough signatures. 
Competing referenda will appear on Nov. 2016 ballot. Proposition 62 would repeal the death penalty. Proposition 66 would curtail the appeals process.

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. Federal judge conducting a review of state's current system.  State's Chief Justice said executions not likely to resume until 2016.

Colorado
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 Earlier in 2013, the legislature had considered a repeal bill, but it was withdrawn.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.

Kentucky
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.
Washington
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.
Pennsylvania
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.
 
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.
Oregon
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.
Louisiana
Last: 1/2010
Lethal injection procedure under review   FORMAL HOLD: Reviewing court has put off all executions until at least January 2018.
Oklahoma
Last: 1/2015
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.

 

FORMAL HOLD: Sup. Ct. allowed the continued use of midazolam in lethal injections (June 29, 2015). Three dates set; all stayed. No executions until at least 5 months after investigation is finalized.
Ohio
Last: 1/2014
Lethal injection procedure under review; state unable to acquire necessary drugs Federal District Court judge reviewing new execution protocol FORMAL HOLD: No executions until at least 2017.
Arkansas
Last: 11/2005
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.

Executions on hold until 2016 as state supreme court allowed time for lethal injection challenge. Next hearing in 2016.

Nebraska
last 1997
DEATH PENALTY ABOLISHED on May 27, 2015. 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. Repeal suspended until referendum. Proponents of death penalty secured sufficient signatures to require a referendum in 2016. FORMAL HOLD:  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. Gov. announced in Dec. 2015 that no executions will be carried out at least until after the Nov. 2016 referendum on the death penalty.
STATES: Status Unclear Temporary Hold DEVELOPMENTS CURRENT STATUS
Delaware
last 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. Attorney General announced on August 15, 2016 that he will not appeal the decision. 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."

Attorney General has said he will challenge the retroactivity of the Delaware Supreme Court decision.
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.
Nevada
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
Tennessee
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.
Indiana
last 2009
 
executions on hold in 2011 state lacks execution drug state may have to change to alternative drug
Montana
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.
Arizona
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.
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
Mississippi
last 2012
Federal District Court stayed executions in Aug. 2015 until there is a hearing on constitutionality of proposed drugs.
Fifth Circuit lifted the stay on executions related to lethal injection challenges (Feb. 10, 2016).
   
Federal
last 2003
Last 4 execution dates stayed because of lethal injection issue. stays granted by federal District Court status unclear

*States are listed as having "Executions on Hold" if executions were placed on hold either by court or executive order.

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.