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Federal Judge Rules California's Death Penalty Unconstitutional

Matthew Tinoco |
July 16, 2014 | 4:39 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Death penalty protesters hold a Die-In in Paris. (World Coalition Against the Death Penalty/ Flickr Creative Commons)
Death penalty protesters hold a Die-In in Paris. (World Coalition Against the Death Penalty/ Flickr Creative Commons)
A Federal Judge ruled today that the death penalty as it's currently practiced in California is a pure violation of the 8th amendment–the one prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment–and therefore unconstitutional. Judge Cormac Carney, of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, made his ruling in Jones V. Chappell based on the fact that in California, the death penalty is arbitrarily enforced and therefore legally pointless as a punishment. 

Since 1978, more than 900 people have been sentenced to death in California, but only 13 of those have actually been killed by the state. The vast majority of the remaining cases are under review (brought on by an appeal or habeous review). 94 death row inmates have also died while on death row of other causes. 

This represents the first time California's death penalty has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. And although voters voted down a proposition to abolish the death penalty in the 2012 election, the decision now moves up to the Ninth Circiut Court of Appeals which, as history tells us, rules generally progressivly on Death Penalty cases.

Carney's ruling comes after inmate Ernest Jones petitioned the state against his sentence. Jones was sentenced to death in 1995 for raping and murdering his girlfriend's mother, Julia Miller. 

In the ruling, however, Carney lambasts the present system as condemning inmates to a sentence of uncertainty.

The "random few" who actually are executed "will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary," said Carney in his decision. 

You can read Carney's full opinion here, courtesy the Death Penalty Information Center.

READ MORE: The Death Penalty Should Be Abolished



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