Appeal Over Execution Delays Dies

A California deathrow inmate has lost a constitutional challenge arguing the decades that it takes to resolve capital appeals amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Ernest DeWayne Jones, who raped and murdered his girlfriend’s mother in 1995, challenged the long period of delay between his sentencing and execution as an eighth amendment violation.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the claim this week pointing to a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision that federal courts may not consider novel constitutional theories on habeas review.

Jones’ appeal was previously rejected by the California Supreme Court in 2009 but a federal trail judge in Los Angeles sided with Jones on the constitutional claim.  The state appealed.

Although more than 900 people have been sentenced to die in California since 1978, only 13 have been executed.  Others have died of natural causes in prison. Currently 748 remain on death row.

“For those who are eventually executed, the process will likely take 25 years or more,” Judge Susan Graber wrote.  That includes direct appeal of the conviction and sentence in state court followed by collateral appeals, known as habeas claims that challenge potential constitutional deficiencies in the trial. Collateral challenges go through both the state court system and then move to federal courts, becoming narrower at each stage.

“Many agree with [Jones] that California’s capital punishment system is dysfunctional and that the delay between sentencing and execution in California is extraordinary,” Graber wrote.  But the purpose of a federal habeas appeal is to make sure the state convictions comply with the federal law “and not to provide a mechanism for the continuing reexamination of final judgments based upon later emerging legal doctrine,” she said.

She was joined by Judges Johnnie Rawlinson and Paul Watford, though Watford concurred in the result for different reasons.

Case:  Jones v.Davis, No. 14-56373



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