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Capital punishment has existed in Tennessee off and on throughout its history, although the methods have changed. Prior to 1913, the method of execution was hanging. Electrocution became the method of execution in 1916 after a two-year abolition of the death penalty. In 1998, the state legislature converted its method of execution to lethal injection. Individuals who were sentenced for a crime before January 1, 1999 are given the choice of electrocution or lethal injection.
From 1916-1960, 125 individuals were executed. From 1972 until 1978, there were no death sentences in Tennessee because of the U.S. Supreme Court declaring it unconstitutional via the Furman v. Georgia decision. In 1965, Governor Frank Clement commuted the sentences of everyone on Tennessee’s death row after an abolition bill was defeated by one vote
In 2007, Gov. Bredesen issued an executive order directing a review of the manner in which the death penalty was administered. All executions were put on hold. On April 30, the department delivered revised death penalty protocols to the governor. The moratorium was lifted the same year. Currently, there are 54 individuals on Tennessee's death row.
For more information and ways to get involved, contact your state's organizations:
The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission (CPPC) was founded in 1983 as the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Tennessee. The CPPC serves in this capacity so that the Catholic Church’s position on public policy matters may be presented with one voice to the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government.
Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (TADP) has over 5,000 supporters and chapters across the state including chapters in Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville.
The Tennessee Alliance for the Severe Mental Illness Exclusion (TASMIE) is a coalition of mental health advocates and other organizations that are educating Tennesseans about their concerns with sentencing those who have a severe mental illness to death.