The protocols of capital punishment

In New Hampshire’s private sector, killing for hire is a capital crime, punishable by death. In the public sector, though, killing is a bureaucratic procedure. In the wake of a jury’s decision to sentence Michael Addison to death, the state’s personnel office could soon find itself hiring an executioner.

Other states specify “execution teams,” “execution commanders” and “execution technicians,” described in lengthy protocols, which also outline the differences between how to carry out executions by electrocution vs. lethal injection.

Since New Hampshire laws specify a choice between lethal injection and hanging, those states that employ the former may serve as models.

Georgia, for example, has a 31-page protocol for conducting executions by lethal injection. The policy prescribes such details as what clothing shall be issued to the condemned (boxer shorts, but no T-shirts) and the color arm bands issued to pro-execution (blue) and anti-execution (green) protesters outside the prison. The roles of 18 or more staff – including a three-member “injection team” — assigned to carry out the execution are detailed, as are the “controlled chemical handling procedures” for the drugs intended for injection.

Florida’s lethal injection protocol is more concise, only 10 pages, beginning with the definitions of the “execution team” and the “executioner,” followed by procedures by which the warden will choose personnel for these roles central to what the protocol calls “administration of execution.” Team members are to receive training and must be tested for drug and alcohol use.

The Florida protocol details actions to be taken 30 minutes prior to the injection of lethal drugs, and then those steps to be taken 15 minutes prior. Georgia instead specifies actions three hours before, two hours before, and one hour before the actual execution takes place.

New Hampshire has no such protocol. But before the state executes Michael Addison or anyone else, the Department of Corrections will have to develop one. Consistent with state policies, the department would draft a policy, followed by a public hearing, which may lead to alterations in the proposal. A new draft would then be considered by the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules at another public hearing.

In the private sector, premeditated killing is a serious crime. This public sector process takes premeditated killing to a new level.

Other states and other countries have chosen a different path. Death penalty abolition is required for membership in the European Union. A resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions passed the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 18 by a vote of 106-46, with 34 abstentions.

On the day that 12 New Hampshire citizens sentenced Michael Addison to be killed by the state, a trial in Rwanda reached an entirely different outcome. Col. Theoneste Bagosora, accused of responsibility for the mass slaughter of half a million people, was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. Rwanda abolished the death penalty in 2007. We might call their choice a plan for premeditated healing.

Arnie Alpert is New Hampshire program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee.

Categories: Opinion