A federal judge ruled Wednesday that California’s death penalty is unconstitutional, NBC reports.
“The dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution,” Judge Cormac J. Carney’s ruling reads. A system that subjects death row inmates not to execution, but to life imprisonment “with the slight possibility of death” violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, he argues.
“Of the more than 900 individuals that have been sentenced to death since 1978, only 13 have been executed. For every one inmate executed by California, seven have died on Death Row, most from natural causes. The review process takes an average of 25 years, and the delay is only getting longer.” (RELATED: Ending The Death Penalty Should Be A Conservative Priority)
The case was brought by Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was sentenced to death in 1995 for the rape and murder of Julia Miller, and has been litigating the appeals processes ever since. Much of the delay, for Jones and other death row inmates, is spent simply waiting for counsel. California didn’t appoint Jones counsel to represent him in his direct appeal until four years after he was sentenced, and it took another four before the court upheld his conviction. (RELATED: Obama Descries ‘Racial Bias, Uneven Application Of The Death Penalty)
A direct appeal is the first of several options death row inmates can pursue to avoid execution, after which they can file petitions with various state and federal courts.
California is one of 32 states in which the death penalty is legal.
Jones’s claim is that “as a result of systemic and inordinate delay in California’s post-conviction review process, only a random few of the hundreds of individuals sentenced to death will be executed, and for those that are, execution will serve no penological purpose.”
Judge Carney agreed, writing that “As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality, they will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.”
“For Mr. Jones to be executed in such a system, where so many are sentenced to death but only a random few are actually executed, would offend the most fundamental of constitutional protections—that the government shall not be permitted to arbitrarily inflict the ultimate punishment of death.”