The amended rule, published Friday in the Federal Register, allows the US government to carry out executions by lethal injection or to use “any other manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence was imposed.”
A number of states allow other methods of execution, including electrocution, inhalation of nitrogen gas, or death by firing squad.
It is still unclear whether the Justice Department will seek to use methods other than lethal injection for executions in the future.
The rule – which comes into effect on December 24 – comes as the Justice Department has scheduled five executions during the Lame Duck period, including just three days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
A Justice Department official told the Associated Press news agency that the federal government “will never execute a detainee by firing squad or electrocution unless the state concerned has itself authorized this. method of execution ”.
The official said two executions scheduled for December would be carried out by lethal injection, but did not provide information on three more scheduled for January.
The official spoke to the PA on condition of anonymity to discuss the department’s internal protocols.
The change is likely to spark intense criticism from Democrats and supporters of the death penalty, as the Trump administration tries to push through a number of rule changes before Trump leaves office.
A spokesperson for Biden told the PA earlier this month that the president-elect “opposes the death penalty now and in the future” and will work to end its use.
But he did not say whether executions would be suspended immediately once Biden took office.
Attorney General William Barr has resumed federal executions this year after a 17-year hiatus.
This year, the Justice Department has put more people to death than in the previous half-century, despite declining public support from Democrats and Republicans for its use.
All states that apply the death penalty allow lethal injection – and it is the primary method in all states where other methods are permitted, according to data compiled by the nonprofit information center on injection. death sentence.
As lethal injection drugs become difficult to obtain, some states have begun to look for alternative methods of carrying out death sentences.
Alabama joined Oklahoma and Mississippi in 2018, approving the use of nitrogen gas to execute prisoners, allowing the state to suffocate sentenced inmates with gas in some cases.
In some states, detainees can choose the method of their execution.
In Florida, for example, an inmate can specifically ask to be killed by electrocution and in Washington state, inmates can ask to be put to death by hanging.
In Utah, prisoners sentenced before May 2004 can choose to be put to death by firing squad.
State law also permits the use of a firing squad if lethal injection drugs are not available.
In 2014, following a botched state execution in Oklahoma, President Barack Obama ordered the Justice Department to conduct a broad review of capital punishment and lethal injection drug issues.
Barr said in July 2019 the review was complete, allowing executions to resume, and approved a new procedure for lethal injections that replaced the three-drug combination previously used in federal executions with a drug, pentobarbital.
The single drug protocol is similar to the procedure used in several states, including Georgia, Missouri, and Texas.
Before the Trump administration resumed executions this year, the federal government had killed only three inmates since 1988.