Why are executions done at night?
A friend of mine on another forum asked that question and it got me to do some researching, for I certainly didn’t know why it was done at night. I mean why not 8:00 in the morning? Why put the prisoner through any extra agony, not that I feel he would have had a good night sleep knowing he was going to die the very next morning but why do it anyhow?
Imagine what it must be like to go through the last day of your life knowing that you would die at one minute after midnight. I mean Cinderella’s couch turned into a pumpkin at midnight but the condemned is turned into a corpse.
You may remember the famous death row inmate Stanley “Toukie” Williams who was the gang founder of the Crips. His street gang was responsible for holdups, muggings and murders in California. The famous “Bloods and Crips” gained notoriety in the 1970’s. Williams said his intention when starting the gang was to keep his neighbourhood free from the crimes perpetrated by other neighbourhood gangs. He admitted that his South Central Los Angeles street gang turned into a monster and they began to commit crimes, such as assault, robbery and the murder. Though until and including the day his execution he still refused to give authorities any of the details of gang activities.
Williams never admitted to any crimes but later in 1993, when he changed his life around he admitted that street gangs were wrong, lending their formation as a recipe for trouble surmounting to the destruction of young lives. His concern at that point transferred from violence to anti violence and he began to write books for children denouncing street gangs and warning them to stay away from that kind of street life.
Throughout the years he had many advocates fighting for his life. Then on Dec 3, 2005, after clemency and a four-week stay of execution, Governor Arnold Schewarzeneger finally rejected his postponements. Williams was given a lethal injection at one minute past midnight but it took a half hour to find a vain and finish the job. He was executed for the murder of Albert Owens which he carried out in 1979.
So we come back to the question why was Williams executed after midnight or why does any state execute anybody after midnight?
Andy Bowers states the major reason for executions carried out at night is that a death warrant is only good for one day – a 24 hour period according to California law, so if the execution is not carried out in the designated time another warrant is required.
This information conflicts with Wikipedia which states the time to execute a death warrant will depend upon the state, but on an average it is 60 days, giving the state ample time for stay of execution. Wikipedia states for the state of California no less than 60 days must elapse but not more than 90 days to carry out the order.
Since Mr. Bowers has conferred with the Death Penalty Information Center, the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation and the California Correctional Services, I will tend to believe him before Wikipedia.
How the process for a death warrant works:
The governor of the State or the President of the United States (federal case) signs a warrant for an execution. This warrant is signed allowing the state to proceed with the execution, but only after all other avenues in the defense of the accused have been rendered but found inadequate. This warrant is to protect the executioner from being charged with murder.
The stay of execution is a court order to delay the execution in the event that new evidence was found that could prove the innocence of the person who was convicted, or if the lawyer is attempting to get the sentence commuted (changed) to life imprisonment instead of the death penalty.
Please note that not every state has the death penalty.
The states that currently have the death penalty are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New York, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.
According to Andy Bowers, “Scheduling the execution for 12:01 a.m. gives the state as much time as possible to deal with last-minute legal appeals and temporary stays, which have a way of eating up time.”
Furthermore, Bowers goes on to say that executing the criminal just after midnight prevents riots and inmate unrest because the inmates are in lockdown and sleeping.
Bowers also states the obvious, holding an execution in what most people call the middle of the night has it problems. It is difficult to conduct the business that needs to be done in the daytime such as obtaining a stay of execution. In 1997 Sandra Day O’Connor, Supreme Court Justice stated that it was not an ideal situation when everyone is obligated to give their best efforts at that hour of the morning.
Now certain states like Texas and Arizona are switching to afternoon executions to accommodate judges, victim’s families and guards and other prison staff.
In my opinion all though these midnight executions seem more private, there is still the town square spectacle, whether it be public hangings in the USA, beheading in 14th century France, or what have you, when you have media coverage in some high profile cases. At that point midnight closed affair has no meaning.