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California Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional

Federal Judge Declares Death Penalty Unconstitutional In California

GUESTS:

Dan Eaton, SDSU Lecturer, Constitutional Law Attorney

Laurence A. Benner, Professor of Law & Managing Director, Criminal Justice Programs

California Western School of Law

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Photo credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Ernest Dewayne Jones is shown in this prison photo.

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Carney Death Penalty Ruling

Carney Death Penalty Ruling

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The California death penalty has been ruled unconstitutional by a judge who found it "dysfunctional" and "arbitrary."

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Cor­mac J. Car­ney criticized California’s death penalty system while ruling in the case of a man who'd been sentenced to death in 1995. Carney says long and unpredictable delays have created a system of arbitrary punishment. He says that violates the US Constitution.

UC Berkeley Law Professor Elisabeth Semel, who directs the school’s Death Penalty Clinic, says that’s an important distinction.

“If the system is arbitrary, then it doesn’t serve the legitimate purposes of capital punishment, at least as the US Supreme Court has declared them,” she says. “It doesn’t deter and it doesn’t serve the purpose of retribution.”

However, Semel says, people should not misunderstanding the ruling. She says while the decision is significant, right now it only applies to a single case.

Still, UC Davis Law Professor Gabriel Chin says Carney’s decision was clearly thoughtful and included supporting opinions from other judges. Chin says the death penalty is permissible if it carried out fairly. But he says California’s system lacks critical resources.

“And if they poured lawyers into it and if they poured money into it, they could move the cases along," he says. "But California, it seems like on the one hand they want to have the death penalty in principle, but on the other hand they don’t want to fund it in a way that makes it functional.”

In his opinion Carney stated the average inmate waits on death row for 25 years. Of the more than 900 California inmates sentenced to death since 1978, only 13 have actually been executed.

The Attorney General's office says it's reviewing the ruling.

Steve Walker, spokesman for San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, released this statement in reaction:

“We are reviewing today’s decision. The District Attorney’s Office consistently reserves the death penalty for the worst of the worst violent offenders and that decision is made only after a comprehensive and thoughtful process. A death sentence is given to fewer than two percent of convicted murderers in California. We will continue to follow whatever the state law is regarding the death penalty.”

But Justin Brooks, of the California Western School of Law's Innocence Project, called the judge's ruling a great decision.

"I've always believed, as many people have believed, that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment," Brooks said. "The randomness of executions in California really shows how the system is completely broken. It's really a failed 40-year experiment."

Death Row Inmates Sentenced In San Diego

There are 748 inmates currently on death row in California, 40 were sentenced in San Diego County.

Eric Anderson, on death row since 2005

Hector Ayala, on death row since 1989

Ronaldo Ayala, on death row since 1989

Steven Bell, on death row since 1994

Terry Bemore, on death row since 1989

Christopher Box, on death row since 1991

Manuel Bracamontes, on death row since 2005

Adrian Camacho, on death row since 2006

David Carpenter, on death row since 1984

Dean Carter, on death row since 1990

Tecumseh Colbert, on death row since 2008

Kevin Cooper, on death row since 1985

Kerry Dalton, on death row since 1995

Scott Erskine, on death row since 2004

Susan Eubanks, on death row since 1999

Michael Flinner, on death row since 2004

Johnaton George, on death row since 1995

Ivan Gonzales, on death row since 1998

Veronica Gonzales, on death row since 1998

Bernard Hamilton, on death row since 1981

Jaime Hoyos, on death row since 1994

Bryan Jones, on death row since 1994

Robert Jurado, on death row since 1994

David Lucas, on death row since 1989

Kurt Michaels, on death row since 1990

Calvin Parker, on death row since 2003

Cleophus Prince, on death row since 1993

Jean Rices, on death row since 2009

Ramon Rogers, on death row since 1997

Rudolph Roybal, on death row since 1992

Richard Samayoa, on death row since 1988

Brandon Taylor, on death row since 1997

Correll Thomas, on death row since 1999

Derlyn Threats, on death row since 2010

Billy Waldon, on death row since 1992

Randall Wall, on death row since 1995

Latwon Weaver, on death row since 1993

David Westerfield, on death row since 2003

George Williams, on death row since 2005

Jeffrey Young, on death row since 2006

Source: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

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