CALIFORNIA: FEDERAL JUDGE RULES DEATH PENALTY UNCONSTITUTIONAL
July 16, 2014: Federal judge vacates death sentence and rules death penalty unconstitutional in California. U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney in Orange County today vacated the death sentence of Ernest Jones and in doing so declared held that California's death penalty is so "arbitrary" and "completely dysfunctionalâ€ť as to amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
Judge Carney wrote that since California voters reinstated capital punishment in 1978, more than 900 inmates have been sentenced to death row but only 13 have been executed.
Judge Carney said the punishment cannot serve the purposes of deterrence or retribution when it is administered to a tiny select few, decades after their sentencing: "Inordinate and unpredictable delay has resulted in a death penalty system in which very few of the hundreds of individuals sentenced to death have been, or even will be, executed by the State. It has resulted in a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed. And it has resulted in a system that serves no penological purpose. Such a system is unconstitutional."
Carneyâ€™s order was related to the case of Ernest Dewayne Jones, who sued Kevin Chappell, the warden of the California State Prison at San Quentin. Jones, Black, was sentenced to death in Los Angeles County on April 7, 1995 for raping and killing Julia Miller, 50, in Aug. 1992.
The judge vacated Jones's death sentence in the order, writing that letting California's system threaten Jones with death nearly 2 decades after his sentencing "violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment". While inmates often work to delay executions through the appeals process, the delays in California's system are inherent to that state's actions, not due to the actions of most individual inmates, Carney wrote.
In the short term, the decision will not have much effect in California, where executions have been on hold since 2006 because of legal challenges to the state's lethal injection method.
At least 17 death row inmates have exhausted all their legal appeals and face execution, but none are likely to be scheduled for the foreseeable future. The state has yet to even put in place an updated lethal injection method that can be reviewed by the courts. The judge cited that reality in his ruling, which noted that condemned killers spend more than 25 years on death row as their appeals drag through the system, with 20 percent of the inmates now 60 years old or older.
There were 748 murderers on death row as of July 7, according to state figures. Carney's ruling, however, could accomplish in the courts what death penalty foes have thus far been unable to carry out at the ballot box, if his decision survives on appeal. But legal experts say the U.S. Supreme Court may be reluctant to back the reasoning. Attorney General Kamala Harris's office is reviewing the ruling and had no immediate comment.
The state can appeal the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (Source: Washington Post, NBC Bay Area news, 16/07/2014)