US District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled Wednesday that the death penalty system in California is unconstitutional. Carney claims the “completely dysfunctional” and excessively delayed system not only defeats the purpose of the deterring crime, but also goes against the Eight Amendment rights of those convicted.
In his ruling, Carney claims the delays in executions average over 25 years. On top of that, most of those sentenced to death never actually have their punishment carried out and the system is so mired that there is now an absurd backlog:
“Of the more than 900 individuals that have been sentenced to death since 1978, only 13 have been executed. For every one inmate executed in California, seven die on Death Row, most of natural causes. The review process takes an average of 25 years, and the delay is only getting longer…In fact, just to carry out the sentences of the 748 inmates currently on Death Row, the State would have to conduct more than one execution a week for the next 14 years.”
These delays, Carney argues, completely defeat the purpose of the entire institution, which is to further deter crime. The process is so inconsistent and lengthy that a death sentence is essentially the same as a life sentence.
“The delay inherent in California’s system is so extraordinary that it alone seriously undermines the continued detterent effect of the State’s death penalty…The reasonable expectation of an individual contemplating a capital crime in California then is that if he is caught, it does not matter whether he is sentenced to death–he realistically faces only life imprisonment.”
But the ruling is about more than just a bogged down system. Judge Carney also discusses the randomness of the few inmates that are executed and the unfairness of a largely arbitrary process.
“Yet their selection for execution will not depend on whether their crime was one of passion or premeditation, on whether they killed one person or ten, or on any other proxy for the relative penological value that will be achieved by executing that inmate over any other…Rather, it will depend upon a factor largely outside an inmate’s control, and wholly divorced from the penological purpose that State sought to achieve by sentencing him to death in the first instance: how quickly the inmate proceeds through the State’s dysfunctional post-conviction review process.”
California’s death penalty was ruled unconstitutional by the state’s own Supreme Court in 1976 but the state legislature reinstated it in 1977.