SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — A federal judge in Orange County on Wednesday declared California’s death penalty system unconstitutional and so “dysfunctional” that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
KNX 1070’s Claudia Peschiutta reports U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney said delays of 25 years or more in deciding appeals and carrying out occasional executions have created an “arbitrary” system that serves no legitimate purpose.
In a 29-page ruling, Carney stated 13 of more than 900 convicted murderers sentenced to death in California since 1978 have been executed under the current system. An additional 94 have died from illness, suicide or other causes, while nearly 40 others had their sentences overturned.
The judge also overturned the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was sentenced to death in Los Angeles in 1995 for the killing three years earlier of his girlfriend’s mother.
“Nearly two decades later, Mr. Jones remains on California’s Death Row, awaiting his execution, but with complete uncertainty as to when, or even whether, it will ever come,” Carney wrote.
Jones is among the roughly 40 percent of inmates who have awaited execution on Death Row for nearly two decades, Carney said.
The ruling was hailed as a major victory for those who support abolishing the death penalty, including Matt Cherry of Death Penalty Focus, a nonprofit group that calls executions an “ineffective, cruel and simplistic response to the serious and complex problem of violent crime.”
“We’ve known for years that the death penalty system in California does not work,” Cherry said.
But for Harriet Salarno, founder of Crime Victims United of California, the ruling could send a message that violent crime in California is acceptable.
“This is a very sad day for all victims and all Californians,” Salarno said.
The ruling could make for a lengthy court battle until issues surrounding the death penalty are resolved, KNX 1070 legal analyst Royal Oakes said.
“I think this has to work its way up to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, maybe even the U.S. Supreme Court,” Oakes said. “In California, the system really is broken.”
Under the state Constitution, the California Supreme Court must resolve all appeals of death-penalty sentences, Oakes said.
Proposition 34, which would have repealed the death penalty in California, was rejected by voters in 2012.