California Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional By Federal Judge

The death penalty is unconstitutional, at least in California, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney reached his decision in part because "lengthy and unpredictable delays have resulted in an arbitrary and unfair capital punishment system," KSBW reports.

Those in favor of abolishing the death penalty in California will understandably take this as a victory as it follows a similar ruling that has suspended state executions since 2006.

That's right, in spite of having the death penalty, California hasn't used it in eight years, and of the 900 people sentenced to death in the last 35 years since voters approved of it, only 13 have been executed.

To affirm the pointlessness of such a long wait time, Judge Carney wrote: "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 current case was brought before the judge by a death row inmate suing the warden of San Quentin state prison. Carney ruled California's death penalty is "an empty promise and 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," Carney added.

Other factors that went in to Carney's decision: the death penalty appeals process can last for decades and, "as a result, most condemned inmates are likely to die of natural causes before their executions are carried out."

(Carney was appointed to his position by then-President George W. Bush.)

According to former Los Angeles County district attorney and anti-death-penalty activist Gil Garcetti, 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.

More on the case from KSBW:

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."

Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen was one of those opposed to Wednesday's ruling. In a statement, he said that the current system "needs improvement"; however, "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," he added. "This ruling denies them and society justice."

How badly do you think this death penalty ruling is a miscarriage of justice for victims and their families; or did Judge Carney make the right decision? Share your thoughts!

[Image via Robert J. Daveant /]