A federal judge’s decision striking down California’s death penalty would be unlikely to receive a warm reception from the U.S. Supreme Court, which repeatedly has turned away similar challenges during the past 20 years, reports the National Law Journal. U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney said the state’s death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment because of systemic delays. Those delays exceed 25 years on average, said Carney, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. The national average of time to execution was an estimated 12.5 years between 2000 and 2012. In 2012, the delay increased to 15.8 years.
Carney’s decision differed from rulings by other state and federal judges who have identified various problems with death sentences, said Diann Rust-Tierney of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. “The judge here has pulled together all of the ways the system is dysfunctional,” she said. “He is not challenging the policy per se; he is saying that in practice, this isn’t working in a constitutional way. His analysis is applicable to the rest of the country. It has implications certainly for the Supreme Court, but also for policy analysis.” His claim of unconstitutional delay in the death penalty system is known as a Lackey claim, first raised in a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court case, Lackey v. Texas. Although the justices denied review of that claim, then-Justice John Paul Stevens wrote separately of the opportunity for state and federal courts to “serve as laboratories” for further study of the issue. Since Lackey, the high court has denied review of the claim in multiple petitions filed by prisoners.