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Fate of California’s Death Penalty Debated
By City News Service
Published September 3, 2015
The fate of California's death penalty was argued in a Pasadena courtroom Monday, as an appeals court panel heard arguments over a ruling by a federal judge in Orange County who found the system is so ``dysfunctional'' that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. (file photo)

The fate of California’s death penalty was argued in a Pasadena courtroom Monday, as an appeals court panel heard arguments over a ruling by a federal judge in Orange County who found the system is so “dysfunctional” that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. (file photo)

The fate of California’s death penalty was argued in a Pasadena courtroom Monday, as an appeals court panel heard arguments over a ruling by a federal judge in Orange County who found the system is so “dysfunctional” that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. It was unclear when the three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will issue a decision, but its ruling could have a lasting impact on whether the state will ever execute another prisoner. In July 2014, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, issued a 29-page ruling overturning the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was sentenced 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. “Mr. Jones is not alone. Since 1978, when the current death penalty system was adopted by California voters, over 900 people have been sentenced to death for their crimes.

“Of them, only 13 have been executed,” he wrote. “For the rest, 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. Indeed, for most, systemic delay has made their execution so unlikely that the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.

“As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality, they will have languished for so long on death row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.”

Attorney General Kamala Harris, who personally opposed the death penalty, decided to appeal the decision.

“I am appealing the court’s decision because it is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants,” Harris said. “This flawed ruling requires appellate review.”

Between 1978 and last summer, 94 of the more than 900 inmates sentenced to death have died behind bars before execution could be carried out, according to Carney’s ruling. Thirty-nine inmates won appeals and were not re-sentenced to death. There are 748 inmates on Death Row awaiting execution or rulings on appeals. Carney’s ruling applied solely to Jones’ case, but a ruling by the 9th Circuit would be precedent-setting. According to the Los Angeles Times, the three judges who heard the case in Pasadena — Susan P. Graber, Johnnie B. Rawlinson and Paul J. Watford – are considered to be politically moderate. All three were appointed by Democrat presidents, Graber and Rawlinson by President Bill Clinton and Watford by President Barack Obama.

Categories: National | News

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