ORANGE COUNTY – July 16, 2014 – In an unprecedented decision, a federal judge today ruled that the state’s death penalty is unconstitutional because the system is so dysfunctional that it is arbitrary and unfair.
The ruling marks the first time a federal court has found California’s death penalty unconstitutional. This decision also comes as California is experiencing a sea change in public attitudes: the death penalty is losing favor with the general public and elected officials.
Defendant Ernest Dewayne Jones, who has been on death row since 19995, argued that because inmates sentenced to death in California sit on death row for decades and are more likely to die of old age than execution, the California death penalty violates the Constitution. U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney, who was appointed to the Federal bench by President George W. Bush, agreed stating, “to be executed in such a system, where so many are sentenced to death but only a random few are actually executed, would offend the most fundamental of constitutional protections–that the government shall not be permitted to arbitrarily inflict the ultimate punishment of death.”
“Judge Carney’s ruling today is truly historic,” said Gil Garcetti, former District Attorney of Los Angeles County. “It further proves that the death penalty is broken beyond repair; it is exorbitantly costly, unfair, and serves no legitimate purpose whatsoever. The only solution is to replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole.”
Today’s ruling highlights a problem that was first brought to light in 2008 by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. The bi-partisan commission comprised of prosecutors, law enforcement, judges, academics and defense attorneys, concluded that California’s death penalty system is dysfunctional and issued a series of comprehensive policy recommendations in order to address the dysfunction.
“We provided recommendations to improve the system, including providing funds to hire more attorneys and judges to move cases through the appeals process more quickly,” comments John Van de Kamp, former Attorney General of California and Chair of the Commission. “To date, none of our recommendations have been implemented.”
“The facts are overwhelming and clear: California’s death penalty system is dysfunctional,” Van de Kamp continues. “The lack of any meaningful progress to implement the Commission’s recommendations over the past six years adds fuel to Judge Carney’s decision today.”
In 2012, 48% of California voters voted yes on Prop. 34 which would have replaced the death penalty with life in prison without parole, and would have required inmates to work in prison and pay restitution to victims’ families. The vote on Prop 34 was closer than the margin on the historic Prop 8 initiative in 2008 which banned same sex marriages.
“Justice requires that we end this charade once and for all,” said Matt Cherry, Executive Director of Death Penalty Focus. “It’s time to replace California’s broken death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. That’s the best way to ensure that convicted killers remain behind bars until they die, without wasting tens of millions of tax dollars every year on needless appeals. That’s justice that works, for everyone.”