A federal judge’s ruling that California’s death penalty is unconstitutional was described by legal experts as stunning and unprecedented, reports the Los Angeles Times. The decision by U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney found that decades-long delays and uncertainty about whether condemned inmates will ever be executed violate the constitution’s ban on cruel or unusual punishment. Carney overturned the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones, a Los Angeles man sentenced to die for the 1992 rape and murder of Julia Miller, his girlfriend’s mother.
Carney said Jones faced “complete uncertainty as to when, or even whether” he would be executed. More than 900 people have been sentenced to death in California since 1978 but only 13 have been executed. Harvard law Prof. Carol Steiker, described Carney’s decision as “stunning” and “path-breaking.” She said, “We haven’t seen very many rulings from the federal courts declaring a whole state’s system unconstitutional. That’s quite stunning.” Elisabeth Semel, a University of California Berkeley law professor who directs the school’s Death Penalty Clinic, described Wednesday’s decision as “unprecedented in the modern death penalty in California.” She added: “This is an issue that has been discussed in California for decades. What he did is both amass and synthesize what [this means] in the context of the 8th Amendment.”