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US judge rules against California death penalty

By
From page A5 | July 17, 2014 |

LOS ANGELES — A federal judge ruled California’s death penalty unconstitutional Wednesday, writing that lengthy and unpredictable delays have resulted in an arbitrary and unfair capital punishment system.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney represents a legal victory for those who want to abolish the death penalty in California and follows a similar ruling that has suspended executions in the state for eight years.

Carney, in a case brought by a death row inmate against the warden of San Quentin state prison, called the death penalty an empty promise that violates the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

“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,” wrote Carney, a George W. Bush appointee.

He noted that death penalty appeals can last decades and, as a result, most condemned inmates are likely to die of natural causes before their executions are carried out.

Carney also wrote that since the current death penalty system was adopted by California voters 35 years ago, more than 900 people have been sentenced to death, but only 13 have been executed.

“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,” the judge stated.

Gil Garcetti, a former Los Angeles County district attorney who has become an anti-death-penalty activist, called the ruling “truly historic.”

“It further proves that the death penalty is broken beyond repair,” he said, calling for capital punishment to be replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Carney’s ruling came in a legal petition brought by Ernest Dewayne Jones, sentenced to die in 1994 after being convicted of murdering and raping his girlfriend’s mother.

Jones remains on death row “with complete uncertainty as to when, or even whether,” his execution will come, the judge wrote, adding, “Mr. Jones is not alone.”

Carney’s ruling could be appealed by the governor or state attorney general, who both oppose the death penalty. For now, Jones will likely remain on death row.

Carney noted that “arbitrary factors” such as the manner in which paperwork is handled are what “determine whether an individual will actually be executed.”

The ruling was not without critics. Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen, former chairman of the California Board of Prison Terms, issued a statement saying, “The current system needs improvement, but to completely get rid of the death penalty is unconscionable for victims and their families and society.

“Victims and their families need and deserve justice. This ruling denies them and society justice.”

He said Californians have long supported the death penalty, and he urged Attorney General Kamala Harris to “uphold the will of the people” and appeal.

Another federal judge put California’s death penalty on hold in 2006 when he ruled the state’s lethal injection procedures needed overhaul.

The judge found that the state’s procedures created too much risk that an inmate would suffer extreme pain while being executed. At that time, lethal injections were carried out in San Quentin’s old gas chamber, which the judge found too cramped, too dark and too old for prison staff to properly administer execution drugs.

Since then, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has built a new execution chamber on the grounds of San Quentin in Northern California and made a number of changes to its procedures to address the judge’s concerns.

A new federal judge has taken over the case and has not ruled on whether those changes are enough for the state to restart executions.

Additionally, the corrections department is drafting a new set of regulations for administering lethal injections. No executions can take place until the new rules are formally adopted.

 

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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Discussion | 8 comments

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  • PatriotJuly 17, 2014 - 5:35 am

    "Extreme pain while being executed", I hope some of these judges families are victims of violent acts committed by these scrum bags.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • a sometime readerJuly 17, 2014 - 10:16 pm

    Calm down, This is the likely outcome which will undoubtedly prove to be the cost savings needed , and unclog the dockets. These convicts aren't going anywhere. “It further proves that the death penalty is broken beyond repair,” he said, calling for capital punishment to be replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • rlw895July 17, 2014 - 5:41 am

    Sounds like the objection is more against lengthy appeals than the death penalty itself, as if summary execution would be more just. But of course if we had summary execution, the objection would be the higher risk of mistake. The death penalty can't win. Abolish it and move on to more pressing matters.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • DanielJuly 17, 2014 - 9:32 am

    Another judge writes his own law overturning existing law, they're all taking their cue from Obama who is proficient at unilaterally writing his own laws a picking which existing laws not to enforce.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Cindi OsbunJuly 17, 2014 - 12:35 pm

    Daniel, I agree with you here…..this judge is no doubt, making his own rules…the people of California, voted FOR THE DEATH PENALTY….he IS one of Obama's followers, I have no doubt about THAT…since obama has been picking and choosing the laws he wants to follow, of our constitution. This entire administration of democrats, has been a sick and scary JOKE…..its time to take our country back and disbar judges such as this, and fire/recall/impeach ANY OF THE SO CALLED REPRESENTATIVES who have VIOLATED THEIR OATHS….we all know who they are…..

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • MikeJuly 17, 2014 - 4:10 pm

    This judge was a Bush nominee.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • a sometime readerJuly 17, 2014 - 10:17 pm

    “It further proves that the death penalty is broken beyond repair,” he said, calling for capital punishment to be replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • rlw895July 17, 2014 - 10:20 pm

    Guess what, congress makes laws, the courts make laws, and the executive makes laws. You need to move past the elementary school explanation of the separation of powers to get it.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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