Electric Current through an Electric Chair

The Physics Factbook
Edited by Glenn Elert -- Written by his students
An educational, Fair Use website

topic index | author index | special index

Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
Standardized
Result
Hewitt, Paul. Conceptual Physics. Massachusetts: Addison Wesley, 1987: 515. "A current of 0.070 ampere causes heart problems and may be fatal." > 0.070 A
Encyclopedia Americana. Connecticut: Grolier,1996: 124. "A lethal electric current goes through the body. An initial voltage of 2000 volts and 5 amperes is used." 5 A
Washington Times. 7 June 1990. "Another method according to the Washington Times is 700-1000 volts at 6 amperes for one minute." 6 A
Electric Chair History. alt.folklore.urban archive. "Laurence [A History of Capital Punishment] reports the common technique: 2000-2200 volts at 7-12 amperes for 60-90 seconds, possibly lowered and reapplied at various intervals until death." 7–12 A
Biology of Electrocution. The Electric Chair.com. "First, a current [sic] of about 700 volts was delivered for almost seventeen seconds." 700 V
[sic]
Interview with Charlie [ShockWave file]. The Electric Chair.com. "20 amps at 20,000 volts" 20 A

A synthesis of my research would conclude that different amounts of current have completely different effects on the human body. Considering that sources report that.07 ampere can be fatal, when sources reporting the current in an electric chair varying by 1 or more amperes, this amount is a large difference.

My sources range from 6-20 amperes. It's difficult to explain why there is such a difference. Perhaps each state has it's own electrocution voltage and current regulations, perhaps each human is unique and each person needs a different amount of current to kill them. Electrocution often requires a few shocks of a lengthy amount of seconds to execute someone.

The strangest result I found was the current being 700 volts. This is definitely a typo on the web-site, however, when posting numbers for the public to view they should be checked. Confusing voltage for current is a major error especially from an electric chair home page. They should correct the voltage.

Overall, a current of 5 amperes or more has been described to singe flesh, hair, and eyes. These shocks also stop prisoner's hearts. This is a cruel description of punishment. New York State does not use electric chairs for their death penalty; only lethal injections.

April Dunetz -- 1998

Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
Standardized
Result
Sandholzer, Kuno. Execution of Kenneth Samuel Stewart Jr. Amnesty International. 25 September 1998. "The electric cycle, 1,825 volts at approximately 7.5 amps for 30 seconds, then 240 volts at approximately 1.5 amps for 60 seconds … a 5 second pause intervenes, and the cycle is repeated, was designed to render the condemned brain dead within the first few moments. The function of the remainder of the cycle is to stop the body's organs so that a physician can certify that death has occurred …." 7.5 A
1.5 A
Brandon, Craig. Frequently Asked Questions about the Electric Chair. Electric Chair History. "The first execution used a voltage of about 1,700, although it was not officially recorded. The voltage has tended to increase over time and in the modern era the voltage is usually 2,000 to 2,200 volts at seven to twelve amps." 7–12 A

Editor's Supplement -- 2001

Related pages in The Physics Factbook:

External links to this page:




Another quality webpage by

Glenn Elert
eglobe logo home | contact

bent | chaos | eworld | facts | physics