A federal judge in Los Angeles declared California’s death penalty unconstitutional Wednesday for its arbitrary and unpredictable delays in violation of protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney vacated the death sentence of Ernest Dwayne Jones who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1995.
California has not had an execution since Clarence Ray Allen was put to death in 2006.
Since 1978, when the current death penalty law was enacted, 900 people have been sentenced to death, but only 13 have been executed.
“The dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution,” Carney wrote.
The systematic delay has made execution so unlikely that it “has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death,” he said.
Of the 900 facing death in California, Carney noted that 39were granted relief from death by federal courts and resentenced to a lesser term.
Forty percent of them have been on death row nearly two decades.
Jones was sentenced in 1995 but it took four years before the wstate appointed a lawyer to represent him in his direct appeal. It took another four years for the California Supreme Court to affirm his conviction. That was 2003.
It took another six years for his constitutional challenges in state court to be fully briefed and again rejected by the state Supreme Court. Finally, in 2010 he filed his federal petition challenging the sentence.
Case: Jones v. Chappell, No. 09-2158CJC