Forms of Capital Punishment: the Legal Methods of Executing a Death Penalty Sentence in the U.S. Today

Historically, the variety of methods for imposing capital punishment seems almost endless. In the United States, our federal constitution forbids any form of execution that is cruel and unusual punishment, however, and this has led us to careful consideration about the practicalities the state must address when it kills someone in punishment for a crime that has been committed.

Currently, only five methods of execution have passed constitutional muster:

Firing Squad

Today, Utah still gives the prisoner the option of choosing the firing squad over lethal injection - if they made their choice before Utah law abolished the firing squad as an alternative method of execution. Idaho and Oklahoma also approve of the firing squad as a method of execution.


Nine states execute(d) by electrocution (electric chair). These are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Gas Chamber

Five states allow(ed) execution by gas chamber. These are Arizona, California, Maryland, Missouri, and Wyoming.


Two states still approve(d) of execution by hanging. These are New Hampshire and Washington.

Lethal Injection

For thirty-five (35) states, plus the U.S. Military and the federal government, lethal injection is the approved method of execution. For those states listed above that approve different methods of execution, they all allow for lethal injection as an alternative.

Why Isn't Every State Listed Here?

Not every state is listed here because not every state allows for capital punishment.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Natasha - June 29, 2013 2:40 PM

If you're going to give a prisoner a choice of method, shouldn't all forms of execution be made available to them to meet their demise? If they choose something "cruel and/or unusual" it was their choice so in my personal wouldn't be cruel to them. Personally (I've thought about this many times) I would want to be beheaded for scientific reasons, and personal beliefs. I think if there is going to be choices given, give them all a choice of any method. If they choose not to pick one, have the victims family choose a way, and as a last resort should the family pass, the Govenor of the state.

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