The General Assembly has passed legislation with bipartisan support making changes to North Carolina’s capital punishment procedures. House Bill 774, the “Restoring Proper Justice Act,” was signed into law by Governor McCrory last week.
Prior to passage of HB774, North Carolina required that a licensed physician be present to oversee executions, but the unwillingness of some doctors to participate in executions has proven to be a barrier to performing them. The American Medical Association Code of Medical Ethics Opinion 2.06 states that a physician should not participate in a legally authorized execution.
The new law therefore allows medical professionals other than licensed physicians — namely licensed or credentialed physician assistants, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, emergency medical technicians, or paramedics — to monitor executions as well.
If a physician is not present at the execution, a physician must be present on the premises and available to examine the body after execution in order to pronounce the person dead and certify that fact to the court. The AMA says that certifying death does not constitute participation in an execution.
Another barrier to carrying out the death penalty has been the difficulty in obtaining execution drugs. Manufacturers and pharmacies have shied away from providing the necessary drugs for fear of attention from hostile anti-death penalty activists. To address this problem, the new law also exempts information relating to the drugs being used (including the companies that manufacture them) from the State’s public records laws.
North Carolina’s death penalty was reinstated in 1977 and we are one of 31 states with the death penalty. Currently, there are 148 people here on death row (two are women) and one person has been there since 1985; there have been no executions in North Carolina since 2006.
The only crime that carries the death penalty in North Carolina is first-degree murder (as defined by N.C. General Statutes Sections 14-17) and with the finding of at least 1 of 11 “aggravating circumstances” (as listed in NCGS Section 15A-2000(e)). North Carolina law grants wide discretion not to seek the death penalty in spite of the presence of one or more of these factors.