California Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Federal Judge Declares Death Penalty Unconstitutional In California
Dan Eaton, SDSU Lecturer, Constitutional Law Attorney
Laurence A. Benner, Professor of Law & Managing Director, Criminal Justice Programs
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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