An inordinate and unpredictable period of delay

Wow. Breaking news – Federal judge just declared the California death penalty unconstitutional.

A federal judge in Orange County ruled Wednesday that California’s death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney, ruled on a petition by death row inmate Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was sentenced to die nearly two decades ago.

Carney said the state’s death penalty has created long delays and uncertainty for inmates, most of whom will never be executed.

He noted that more than 900 people have been sentenced to death in California since 1978 but only 13 have been executed.

“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,” Carney wrote.

Well that does sound like torture.

Carney, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, said the delays have created a “system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed,” Carney said.

In overturning Jones’ death sentence, Carney noted that the inmate faced “complete uncertainty as to when, or even whether” he will be executed.

The “random few” who will be executed “will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary,” Carney said.

You’re there 20 years, you’re a different person, and then finally the state comes ambling along, yawning and picking its teeth, and says, “yeah ok we’re ready to off you now. Sorry about the wait.” It does seem pretty pointless.

And if it’s pointless after 20 years…then it’s pointless anyway, right? If it doesn’t accomplish anything after a long delay, how much can it accomplish if it’s done promptly?

Natasha Minsker, a director of the ACLU of Northern California, said Wednesday’s ruling marked the first time that a federal judge had found the state’s current system unconstitutional. She said it was also “the first time any judge has ruled systemic delay creates an arbitrary system that serves no legitimate purpose and is therefore unconstitutional.”

And it’s a Bush judge, a Bush 2 judge, a judge appointed by the Shrub. There’s something satisfying about that.


  1. says

    Damn, this is great news and it’s going to be interesting!! It would be awesome if the death penalty started to unravel at the same time as opposition to same-sex marriage and the war on pot.

  2. Claire Ramsey says

    Excellent news! Carney made a good decision. One wonders how many defense teams made that case before how many judges, who did not make a good decision. Finally, someone paid attention.

  3. screechymonkey says

    As a practical matter, it’s not a big change. California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006; there’s been a moratorium in place, I believe because of issues with the actual method of execution.

    I’ll be interested to read the full opinion. Apparently from the excerpts I’ve seen quoted, Judge Carney found that the repeated delays in the system aren’t all or even mostly due to appeals by prisoners.

  4. Trebuchet says

    In Texas, of course, the death penalty is cruel and usual. And quick, especially if there’s a chance you’re actually innocent.

  5. johnthedrunkard says

    The bloodthirsty haste of Texas and the infinite delay of California… Is there some ‘Dorothy’ point where the certainty, and proximity, of guilt are poised perfectly?

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