California death penalty: Executions so 'dysfunctional' they're unconstitutional, court rules

Court decision could lead to end of capital punishment in state

Los Angeles

A federal judge in California has ruled that the state’s application of the death penalty is so “dysfunctional” as to be unconstitutional, a decision that could herald the demise of capital punishment in the Golden State.

US District Judge Cormac Carney said on Wednesday that the inmates on California’s death row wait so long for their fate that a death sentence in fact means “life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.” That perpetual uncertainty, he concluded, represents cruel and unusual punishment, which is forbidden by the US Constitution.

The “random few” who do eventually face execution “have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary,”  Mr Carney added. The ruling came as he annulled a death sentence handed down to Ernest Jones in 1995 for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s mother, 50-year-old accountant Julia Miller.

Mr Carney’s decision will now move up the judicial ladder to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where, if the ruling is upheld, it could bring an end to capital punishment in California. The state has the longest death row in the US, with more than 900 people sentenced to death here since 1978, when capital punishment was reinstated. Yet only 13 men have actually been executed in that time, the last of whom, Clarence Allen, died  by lethal injection in 2006 after 23 years on death row.

Executions have been stalled in the state since 2006, though California voters decided to keep the death penalty as recently as 2012, when a ballot initiative to abolish capital punishment was narrowly defeated.

Active death penalty states are currently suffering from a severe shortage of lethal injection drugs, caused in large part by an embargo on their export from the EU. The future of the death penalty across the US has recently been called into question, following several botched lethal injections, including that of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in April, which President Barack Obama described as “deeply troubling”.

Read more:
In depth: 'I took an oath to defend this guy'
Comment: The reason why drug companies don't want to get involved with death penalty

Overall, the death penalty remains in 32 US states, though just 10 have carried out executions in recent years. US courts imposed 80 death sentences last year, down from 315 in 1994. There were 39 executions in 2013, compared to 98 in 1999. Of the 18 states that have abolished the death penalty, six did so in the past seven years.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy