Capital punishment was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in the case of Jones v. Chappell on July 16, 2014. In August, California State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris declared that the federal judge’s decision in declaring the state’s enforcement of the death penalty unconstitutional was “flawed” and will be appealed. The appeal will be made to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In his July decision, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney – a federal judge in California – ruled in Jones v. Chappell that the machinery of death in California is so plagued by delays and arbitrariness that it amounts to a “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the federal constitution.

Judge Carney struck down Ernest Jones’s 1995 death sentence for raping and killing his girlfriend’s mother, along with the capital sentences of 747 other convicts. Awaiting execution for decades “with complete uncertainty as to when, or even whether, it will ever come,” Judge Carney wrote, is a punishment “no rational jury or legislature could ever impose.”

The average prisoner who is executed in California has spent 25 years on death row – much longer than the national average of 15.8 years. In his opinion, the judge added, “As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality, they will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.”

This is the second time the federal court has held that California’s death penalty system was unconstitutional. In 2006, the court held in Morales v. Tilton that the state’s death penalty system was unconstitutional in that California’s lethal-injection protocol violated the Eighth Amendment because it created an unnecessary risk of inflicting excessive (or “wanton”) pain. This decision resulted in a de facto moratorium of the death penalty.

Capital punishment has a long history in California. The first recorded death sentence in the area that is now California took place in 1778 when four Native Americans were sentenced to be shot in the Presidio of San Diego for conspiracy to commit murder. In November 2012, California voters rejected, by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, an initiative (Proposition 34) that would have repealed the state’s death penalty statute.

Daniel R. Perlman, Esq.

Law Offices of Daniel R. Perlman