"Judge chastises California perpetuating dysfunctional death penalty system," is the editorial published in today's Sacramento Bee.
Death penalty opponents might be heartened by a federal judge’s decision declaring California’s capital punishment unconstitutional.
But the decision by U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney last week is less a victory for abolitionists than it is a condemnation of California officials’ mishandling of capital punishment.
There always will be terrible crimes. But for an array of reasons, not the least of which is public ambivalence, California has failed to carry out death sentences. Policymakers and the citizenry ought to acknowledge that the death penalty is broken beyond repair.
"Justice delayed," is the title of the Economist's current Democracy in America column.
“A MAN is undone by waiting for capital punishment,” Albert Camus wrote, “well before he dies.” On July 16th a federal judge in California, Cormac Carney, ruled in Jones v Chappell that the machinery of death in the Golden State is so plagued by delays and arbitrariness that it amounts to a “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the federal constitution. Judge Carney struck down Ernest Jones’s 1995 death sentence for raping and killing his girlfriend’s mother, along with the capital sentences of 747 other convicts. Awaiting execution for decades “with complete uncertainty as to when, or even whether, it will ever come,” Judge Carney wrote, is a punishment “no rational jury or legislature could ever impose.”
Stephen Bright of the Southern Centre for Human Rights says that the California death penalty is “uniquely dysfunctional” (a term Judge Carney used eight times) and “will collapse of its own weight eventually.” If and when the challenge reaches the Supreme Court, it is unclear how it will fare. Justice Stephen Breyer has been receptive to the delay argument in the past and this March Justice Anthony Kennedy asked the Florida solicitor general whether he thought waiting 35 years to die was "consistent with the purposes that the death penalty is designed to serve." Mr Bright has few doubts which way the wind is blowing. Judge Carney’s decision, he says, “has added to the conversation in a way that will lead to the inevitable end of the death penalty in California and the United States.”
The Bakersfield Californian reports, "Death penalty ruling used as argument in local cases," by Jason Kotowski.
Repercussions from last week's federal ruling calling California's death penalty unconstitutional are already being felt in Kern County.
The attorney representing Aaron Patrick Burris, charged with two counts of murder stemming from a shooting at a medical marijuana dispensary last summer, has filed a motion to strike the death penalty as potential punishment in Burris' case.
The motion, filed by Deputy Public Defender Paul Cadman on July 17, states, "The defendant seeks a fair and impartial trial, untainted by the moral repugnancy of the California penalty scheme, which ignores the clear reading and mandates of the 8th Amendment."
Earlier coverage of Judge Cormac Carney's California ruling begins at the link.
The federal district court ruling in Jones v. Chappell is available in Adobe .pdf format.