State Death Penalty System Ruled Unconstitutionally Cruel by Federal Judge

July 16, 2014 21:07 pm · 51 comments

California’s death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment because the system is “dysfunctional” and its implementation arbitrary, a federal judge ruled today.

U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney wrote in a 29-page ruling today that the slow pace of appeals and executions in California have created an unmanageable backlog of prisoners on Death Row, a small fraction of whom will actually be executed.

He said that there is only a small chance of a prisoner sentenced to death actually being executed, effectively creating an arbitrary system where prisoners can’t know whether a death sentence will actually lead to an execution.

For that reason, he found California’s death penalty system to be cruel and unusual punishment and unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Indeed, for most, systemic delay has made their execution so unlikely that the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death,” Carney wrote.

Since 1978, when California brought back the death penalty after an earlier state Supreme Court ruling abolished it, more than 900 people have been sentenced to death but only 13 have been executed, Carney wrote.

Of the rest, 94 have died of causes other than execution, 39 had their death sentence overturned by appeals, and 748 remain on Death Row with their cases at various points in the appeal process.

The delays in executions come from mandated appeals processes. All death sentences are automatically appealed to the state Supreme Court, which hears about 20 and 25 death penalty cases per year.

More people are sentenced to death than are removed from it through appeal, death or execution each year. By the time the average Death Row inmate’s first appeal is heard before the state Supreme Court, between 11.7 and 13.7 years have passed, Carney wrote.

“In California, a Death Row inmate will likely wait at least 25 years before his execution becomes even a realistic possibility,” Carney wrote.

To carry out the sentences of the 748 inmates on Death Row, California would have to carry out more than one execution a week for the next 14 years.

California has conducted no executions since January 2006 because of legal challenges to its three-drug system for lethal injections. After a lengthy appeals process, Gov. Jerry Brown announced last year that the state would be moving to a one-drug execution, but can still conduct no executions as it drafts policy for the shift.

Not only are the delays creating a cruelly arbitrary system, Carney said, but are undermining the purposes of deterrence and retribution for the death penalty.

Carney ruled on a constitutional challenge to the death penalty brought by Death Row inmate Ernest Jones, who was sentenced to death in 1995 in Los Angeles and remains on Death Row in San Quentin State Prison.

The case could be appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which could issue a statewide order if it agrees with Carney’s ruling, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Why is it July 16, 2014 at 9:11 PM

that anything but a “kid gloves” procedure, is “cruel and unusual punishment”, even though their victims suffered a lot more? 🙁

Dee July 16, 2014 at 9:23 PM

Oh please …..really? As far as I’m concerned they have it easy. They should be executed in the same way THEY killed the victims, So lets re implement the death penalty as it us and get some of the low life up there cleared out and the sooner the better. I am sure it is sooooo comforting to the families of the victims to hear a judge feel that the perps life and rights are more important than the victims

Support the Death Penalty July 16, 2014 at 9:30 PM

Ok. I said it. But look at what happened in Stockton today..and almost everywhere. Bank robbed, hostages, shoot out with police all during a wild chase at 100+ mph thru the city. How many lives were endangered? And the hostages killed or injured, and scared for life. Horrible.

What do we do as a society about rampant violence and how do we dispense justice when faced with such vicious criminals who care nothing about life?

Yes, the Judge is absolutely right. Our justice system and the death penalty has become a total joke. It is clear that “utopian liberals” find no justification for ANY death penalty regardless of the crime. They undertake every tactic possible to challenge and fact an entire legal industry exists for this purpose alone.

Cruel? One drug or two? Gas chamber too barbaric? Some condemned may have a faint heartbeat for a few minutes?

Solution. Firing squad. Just like the military. Fast and sure, and equally meted out. Like war criminals. Preferred over hanging. Folks, executions are not supposed to be politically correct,warm and fuzzy, nor comforting to the condemned.

Cautiously Informed July 16, 2014 at 9:32 PM

It’s cruel and unusual punishment alright- inflicted on the families and loved ones of those murdered by a system that favors criminals.

Mark July 16, 2014 at 9:58 PM

What about the rights of the people they killed?

That's All Folks! July 16, 2014 at 9:59 PM

It’s time to bring back good old fashioned hanging. They can’t say it’s cruel and unusual punishment since it was the preferred method of execution when the Constitution went into effect in 1788.

California, Criminals' Paradise July 16, 2014 at 10:12 PM

The death penalty is overwhelmingly supported in polls, even in California. No one cares what the people want anymore.

Pucky July 16, 2014 at 10:19 PM

Public Hanging or Firing squad…Which do you prefer? Mr. Murderer?

Marianne July 16, 2014 at 10:37 PM

I think it’s more cruel to house and feed these fools!

I'm The Urban Spaceman July 16, 2014 at 11:19 PM

Let’s go natural and use leeches

Foxy lady July 16, 2014 at 11:27 PM

Im all for the death penalty. Who cares how many drugs it takes to get the job done? But only in those instances where forensic science can prove for a fact that the perp did it. There can be no executions of prisoneers who were convicted on circumstantial evidence only. Gone are the days when we can put people to death while relying upon eye witnesses and drawing conclusions. We now know that a number of innocent people have been wrongly convicted for heanous crimes in the past. We now have the technology in most instances to prove via forensic science a person’s incence or guilt. We have to set the bar there at that standard.

Dennis July 16, 2014 at 11:29 PM

U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney just wants to see his name in the news.

AClaycordian July 17, 2014 at 12:48 AM

So basically he’s either an activist judge who is against the death penalty because of his politics and he’s shoe-horned his belief into this ruling, or he’s saying we need a fast lane for murderers who earned the death penalty.

I agree with the latter.

J July 17, 2014 at 12:48 AM

This goes to show you how messed up our justice system is.. And especially californias. On death row? Should be executed in a matter of months at most..

Antler July 17, 2014 at 1:05 AM

#3 and #11. …… Yes.

anon July 17, 2014 at 2:10 AM

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge in 1995 sentenced Jones to death for the 1992 rape and killing of Julia Miller, his girlfriend’s mother. Jones killed Miller 10 months after being paroled for a previous rape.

Great system……….

John H. July 17, 2014 at 3:29 AM

Lets solve this judges problem and remove the backlog of prisoners with a mass execution somewhere, and get the ball rolling again on weekly/monthly procedures. Remove the ability for lengthy appeals, etc, unless there is a small possibility that the convict is not the one in question, and you have more slam dunk cases than before. This is 2014, our forensics are 10,000x better now.

Pro Fi July 17, 2014 at 4:21 AM

@ Foxy Lady – 100% spot on! As I read the ruling, the judge makes it clear that allowing individuals to remain on death row with very little chance of being executed is the “cruel & unusual punishment”. . Hmmmmm… doesn’t sound like the judge is opposed to the penalty itself but the extraordinary amount of time it takes to impose the sentence.

@Support The Death Penalty – You really believe that ALL the judges and jurors in the state of California are “utopian liberals”? The Make-up of the current CA Supreme court – “Five current justices were appointed by Republicans (Cantil-Sakauye, Baxter, Werdegar, Chin, and Corrigan) and one by a Democrat (Liu). There is one Filipino-American justice (Cantil-Sakauye), two East Asian-American justices (Chin and Liu), and three European-American justices (Baxter, Corrigan, and Werdegar). The justices do not publicly discuss their religious views or affiliations.” – Yes, the Court is heavily skewed…. by a 5 to 1 margin favoring Republicans. Are these the utopian liberals you are referring to?


Pro Fi July 17, 2014 at 4:37 AM

BTW – A “perp” or perpetrator is a suspect in a crime. During a criminal trial the “perp” is referred to as “the defendant”. After being found guilty, the individual becomes a criminal, as they are no longer suspected of a criminal act but convicted of it.

Googlar July 17, 2014 at 5:18 AM

The issue nobody else has brought up before:

If someone is sentenced to death, why do the taxpayers pay for his life for 25+ years while as the prison complex profits from it?

GetTheFactsStraight July 17, 2014 at 6:29 AM

RE: #11 Foxy Lady,

Forensic evidence IS circumstantial evidence. Eyewitness testimony IS direct evidence. Most people, like you, have heard catch-phrases so long that they think circumstantial evidence is weak. For example; Fingerprints and DNA are circumstantial evidence, even though they may be very very strong items of evidence in a particular case. An old man with poor vision that thinks he may have seen a person do something is actually direct evidence, even though it may be weak evidence.

Back on topic; here is a good example. In 2002, the D.C. Sniper was arrested for shooting and killing 10 people. In 2009, he was executed in Virginia. In 1986, the Night Stalker was arrested in CA for torturing 13 people to death, along with countless rapes. In 2006, he died from cancer still many years away from execution. The judge is right about one thing; the CA system is broken.

Jerk July 17, 2014 at 6:53 AM

That “judge” is garbage. Time to take out the trash.

Justin July 17, 2014 at 7:16 AM

It seems most posters here don’t realize the justice system is not your personal vehicle for retribution. That’s why we call it justice and not revenge.

We have specific standards in place for treatment and ‘cruel and unusual’ to negate possibilities of torture just like many of you advocate.

We should be viewing the justice system as a means for turning things around. Or at the very least – removing those from society that cause it harm without being barbarians. We should be rising about them, not stooping to their level.

annon July 17, 2014 at 7:22 AM

I was against the death penalty until I sat on a jury of a kidnap,rape, and murder of a very young girl. How do you punish those that have no moral values for life? That trial changed my life for a few years after it was over. We need stronger laws for punishment. Maybe, we should have death by firing squad, that should be quick.

N.Concord July 17, 2014 at 7:32 AM

“Get rich or die tryin”, the mantra of criminals!
The death penalty has never been a deterrent
to crime. I don’t know if there is an answer to
crime and criminals, but as the population of
California grows, so will a culture of gangs and
gangsters. Oh yah, one day and counting!

anon July 17, 2014 at 7:41 AM

I would like to see this judge rule against taxes.

Don P - N. Concord July 17, 2014 at 7:56 AM

So killing someone painlessly is “cruel”, but keeping them locked up in a cage for their entire life isn’t?

GGG July 17, 2014 at 8:25 AM

Taxpayers have spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment in California since it was reinstated in 1978 – that’s $308 million for each of the 13 executions carried out since then. Really? You think that’s an effective use of money? We don’t live in the days of the wild west. Rightfully, “due process” is the law so let’s be realistic here and end this shameful & unproductive system.

Miss Ranchogirl July 17, 2014 at 8:27 AM

sounds like a slap in the face to all the victim’s families!

kax July 17, 2014 at 8:31 AM

just another instance of the will of the people being ignored….most on death row are true monsters of humanity……and the victims continue to cry out for justice…..

The Observer July 17, 2014 at 8:45 AM

I remember when Illinois carried out the death penalty using the electric chair. I suggest California clear the death penalty backlog by moving to electric bleachers.

Anon July 17, 2014 at 9:19 AM

@3,11and 30.
Wish it would happen

anon July 17, 2014 at 9:33 AM

Put these dudes in the general prison population and let prison justice prevail.

PO'd July 17, 2014 at 9:52 AM

@ N Concord#25- It’s not about being a deterrent, it’s about punishment. The MAJORITY want it, but of course the Marxist/liberal cabal has successfully dragged it out for a 25 year appeal process.The convict is likely to die n prison before his big day.
As far as inhumane methods of execution: the scam of lethal injection being inhumane is a total farce. When we lethally inject a dying pet it’s considered humane, but not for a convicted murderer. Wow!!
Solution-use a firing squad-nobody survives 8 or 10 marksman, and it’s over in a second

mutts July 17, 2014 at 10:29 AM

I’ve said this all along, hang them. After all, we can recycle the rope!

@P'od July 17, 2014 at 10:42 AM

Sure, your right. Vengeance , revenge, retribution,
All words that just keep this cycle going. As I
said, I don’t know the answer. But I do believe
that unless we all learn to get along with each
other, regardless of our differences. Anger and
hatred and the violence that accompanies it
like a shadow will grow. Punishment, it is to
laugh. These people aren’t afraid of jail, they
are not afraid of death. They are not fearful of
all the tough talk from people like the late
NRA#1Fan and those that professing more
guns will solve the problem.
These people( criminals) are created in our
homes, in our schools, and on our streets.
You have your head in the sand if you believe
that things are getting better, today young people
see that they have very little in the way of
earning a living.
The answer lies in a complete rethinking of
how a successful society functions.
I am still actually hopeful for the human race
as a whole, however, the increasing divide between
” The left” and ” The right”, leads me to think
It will take a a long hard time before it is
corrected in America at least.

kax July 17, 2014 at 11:33 AM

the person that killed my dear cousin had just been released after doing 14 years for murder…..for killing my cousin, he got life….he has also killed a fellow prison inmate… all means, let’s think of the poor, poor murderer, while we ignore the victims…..i say hang them, start now, and continue until death row is empty…..

anonanonagain July 17, 2014 at 12:30 PM

So let me get this straight. We have a revolving door of criminals as it is. There are NO deterrents for someone who commits a crime, especially a violent crime when the only punishment is incarceration for life. Those that do not value another person’s life think of jail as no big deal. 3 squares a day, a bed to sleep in, exercise yard, reading materials (if they can read), visitors, etc. etc. Where are the rights of the victims??? This is absurd.

Overwhelmed July 17, 2014 at 12:41 PM

With DNA and other forms of forensics, it should not be a question of if he killed, but why! Screw it, off with his head!

Mr. Pink July 17, 2014 at 1:41 PM

Force all 900 prisoners to hold hands, then take the guy on the end and stick his finger in a light socket. End of backlog.

Mr. Pink July 17, 2014 at 1:43 PM

And deterrent or not, at least it assures that those particular thugs will never harm anyone again.

Fig Newton July 17, 2014 at 2:31 PM

Let’s not hear they are seeking the Death penalty ever again! The Liberal Judge won this round,,and with Kamala Harris acting like the Atty general here,,we will never see the Death penaty!

Elwood July 17, 2014 at 2:46 PM

@Support the Death Penalty #3

Excellently put!

U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney July 17, 2014 at 3:09 PM

Appointed by GW Bush. Another bad decision that haunts us today.

Larry July 17, 2014 at 5:24 PM

@29 I totally agree with you.

mwo1859 July 17, 2014 at 7:46 PM

I think we have exacuted 3 people this year alone in florida

Anon July 17, 2014 at 8:16 PM

This state is a joke!

RIII July 17, 2014 at 9:24 PM

Perhaps we should view it as surgery on a diseased society. When a cancer is removed from a healthy body, does anyone care where the diseased parts were disposed of? It appears that our “Correctional Facilities” have not been all that successful. Maybe we should get back to public hangings. At least we will not have “Repeat Offenders.” How any people overcrowding our “penal Institutions” ever become useful members of society? Not too many!

Dennis July 17, 2014 at 10:21 PM

sounds to me like the execution delays are unconstitutional, not the law itself.

“The American people have determined that the good to be derived from capital punishment — in deterrence, and perhaps most of all in the meting out of condign justice for horrible crimes — outweighs the risk of error. It is no proper part of the business of this court, or of its justices, to second-guess that judgment, much less to impugn it before the world …,”

– Justice Antonin Scalia

Carney should read that about 100 more times, to get it understood:
” It is no proper part of the business of this court, or of its justices, to second-guess that judgment, much less to impugn it before the world …,”

power July 19, 2014 at 4:34 PM

How about gladiator style fights within the prison’s. I would pay hundreds on pay per view! what would you pay? and what should the proceeds go to?Prisoners that agree to this only.

Silva July 19, 2014 at 7:12 PM

#50, They tried that at Corcoran unofficially a while back.

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