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What Crimes Are Eligible for the Death Penalty in SC?

What Crimes Are Eligible for the Death Penalty in SC?

South Carolina has recently reinstated the firing squad for those who commit crimes worthy of death row. So, what crimes count toward the death penalty and what is the significance of the firing squad?

South Carolina Death Penalty

The state’s leaders have voted in favor of bringing back firing squads for executions. This method of execution has not been in use for many years until Utah executed an inmate in this way in 2010. Now that SC is reinstating it, many are wondering why firing squads were dissolved and why the state would want them back.


Over time, the justice system has used many methods of execution. In the early days of American justice, hangings were the order of the day. However, it became inefficient as executioners were cutting corners to keep up with demand and their victims were forced to suffer a broken neck until they suffocated and died.

When it became clear that hanging was no longer an option, firing squads became popular. During an execution, a group of executioners would gather, and all would be given one round. Each man except for one would have an empty round and they would all fire at the same time. Only the man with the live round would be responsible for the execution but this proved to weigh heavily on the minds of those who knew they were responsible.

Eventually, electric chairs were popularized, but the gore and brutality of this method was quickly stigmatized. In recent years lethal injection has been declared the most ‘human’ execution method, but due to shortages of lethal injection medications and the end of it is use in most states, executioners have begun to rely on inferior medications and animal tranquilizers to get the job done.


SC legislators have decided to bring back firing squads since lethal injection chemicals are so difficult to find. The squads will be made up of volunteers who are police officers. Executions have decreased over the years, but the new law does raise questions about which laws qualify for the death penalty.

Death Penalty Crimes

According to the law, aggravating circumstances must be present for a crime to be worth the death penalty. Historically, only capital crimes like treason and terrorism were enough to justify execution, but the state law includes the following crimes in the list:

  • Murder committed in addition to any degree of sexual conduct, trafficking, kidnapping, armed robbery, larceny, torture, or first-degree arson
  • Dismemberment of a murder victim
  • Murder via poison
  • Murdering someone and creating a risk of death for bystanders
  • Repeat murderers
  • Murder for the purpose of receiving money
  • Murdering a victim who is 11 years old or younger
  • The murder of two people by one person
  • Murdering a current or former judicial officer or officer of the court
  • Coercion to murder
  • Murdering a witness to a crime
  • Murder by registered sexually violent predators
  • The murder of a current or former member of law enforcement or a firefighter during or because of their duties

It is important to note that just because a person is charged with any one of the crimes listed above does not mean that they will receive the death penalty. The final word on any criminal trial is up to the judge who will use their best discretion and the law to declare a fair and just sentence for the crimes in question. Most death penalty trials in South Carolina are also conducted with a jury, who must also determine that the death penalty is appropriate.

Are You Facing Criminal Charges?

If you are facing criminal charges, you may feel hopeless and afraid of what the future holds. The consequences of a crime span beyond jail time or fines – those convicted of a crime are often stigmatized and ostracized from society.

At Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC, we understand what is at stake in your criminal case. Our compassionate attorneys have the experience and knowledge you need to build a compelling case. We work as a team to help our clients pursue the most optimal result, and we leave no stone unturned when fighting on their behalf.

Schedule a free consultation with Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC today!


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