California's Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional

Federal judge says systemic delays amount to cruel and unusual punishment

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 16, 2014 3:37 PM CDT

(Newser) – A potentially huge ruling on the death penalty out of California: A federal judge says the state's system of capital punishment is so inept that California must stop killing inmates, period, reports NBC Bay Area. The decision by US District Judge Cormac J. Carney isn't about the ongoing controversy over lethal-injection drugs; rather, Carney says the state's death penalty amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because death-row inmates are subject to decades of uncertainty and "arbitrary" decisions about their fate, reports the Los Angeles Times. The decision has the potential to "wipe California's death penalty off the books," reports the San Jose Mercury News.

"When an individual is condemned to death in California, the sentence carries with it an implicit promise from the state that it will actually be carried out," writes Carney, an appointee of George W. Bush. "But for too long now, the promise has been an empty one ... it has resulted in a system that serves no penological purpose." He points out that while 900 people have been sentenced to death in California since 1978, only 13 have been executed. “For the rest, 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." The state can appeal to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Executions in California have been on hold since 2006 anyway because of challenges to its method of lethal injection.

A 2010 file photo of the death chamber at San Quentin State Prison in California.   (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
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