The death penalty has been exercised in South Carolina on and off again since the year 1718. For many years South Carolina operated under a typical death penalty statute which provided for capital punishment for a number of crimes including, but not limited to, murder, rape and kidnapping. The statute predicated the imposition of the death penalty in those situations where the jury made a finding of guilt without an affirmative recommendation of mercy. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Furman v. Georgia held that the imposition of the death penalty was unconstitutional in those situations where either the court or the jury had practically unfettered discretion to impose capital punishment. The Furman case, in effect, declared most death penalty statutes, including that of South Carolina, to be unconstitutional.
South Carolina was one of a number of states that modified their death penalty statutes to properly explain the circumstances under which the death penalty would be imposed mandatorily. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in the 1976 case Greg v. Georgia, that each individual case should be considered upon its merit and that the imposition of the death penalty pursuant to a mandatory statutory scheme was unconstitutional as violative of the 8th Amendment.
In light of the foregoing decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, the General Assembly, in Act 177, Acts in Joint Resolutions of 1977, reenacted our current death penalty statute, which has been codified at Section 16-3-20 Code of Laws of South Carolina, 1976. The current statute has been declared constitutional, both by the State Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court, State v. Shaw (1979). It was under this statutory scheme that the death penalty was reinstated in South Carolina.
From 1985 through 2011, 43 individuals have had capital punishment administered to them within South Carolina. In 1995, South Carolina shifted the default method of capital punishment from the usage of the electric chair to lethal injection. However, the United States began experiencing a shortage of the drugs necessary to properly impose the death penalty by lethal injection. South Carolina legislators moved to address this issue in 2021 by making 2 alterations to South Carolina’s death penalty statute. First, legislators once again made the electric chair the default method of capital punishment within South Carolina. Secondly, legislators authorized the use of a firing squad as a viable method of capital punishment should an inmate prefer that method. No individuals have been executed in South Carolina since these changes were made.