[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Central District of California [official website] on Wednesday struck down [order] California’s death penalty, finding that it violates the Eighth Amendment [text] to the US Constitution. US District Judge Cormac Carney ruled on a petition by death row inmate Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was sentenced to death in 1995. Carney found that the lengthy delays create uncertainty for death row inmates, amounting to cruel and unusual punishment:
Inordinate and unpredictable delay has resulted in a death penalty system in which very few of the hundreds of individuals sentenced to death have been, or even will be, executed by the State. It has resulted in a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed. And it has resulted in a system that serves no penological purpose. Such a system is unconstitutional.
A spokesperson for California Attorney General Kamala Harris said her office is reviewing the decision [LAT report], which could be appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Use of the death penalty [JURIST backgrounder] has been a controversial issue throughout the US and internationally. In May the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] urged the US to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty following a botched execution [JURIST reports] performed in Oklahoma the previous week. In April the Supreme Court of Oklahoma [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that inmates’ constitutional rights were not violated by keeping the sources of lethal injection drugs secret. Earlier that month a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri [official website] allowed the continuation [JURIST report] of a lawsuit challenging a bill that would conceal the identities of individuals involved in the administration of the death penalty. A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma [official website] issued a temporary restraining order [JURIST report] in February, enjoining a pharmacy from providing a lethal injection drug to the Missouri Department of Corrections [official website]. In June 2013 North Carolina repealed a law [JURIST report] allowing minority inmates on death row to seek a reduced sentence.