California is about to find out if taking three decades or more to execute death row inmates will turn out to be the fatal flaw in the state’s long-faltering death penalty system, says the San Jose Mercury News. In a case that may be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, a federal appeals court on Monday will review a Los Angeles federal judge’s ruling last year declaring California’s “dysfunctional” death penalty unconstitutional because of systemic delays in a state with more than a quarter of the nation’s condemned inmates.
In that ruling, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney concluded that death sentences in California, with more than 750 condemned killers at San Quentin, have been transformed into “life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.” The showdown amounts to a legal referendum on the nation’s most prolific death penalty state, notorious for filling its death row but failing to carry out executions. California has had just 13 executions overall since 1978, and none in nearly a decade — the result of ongoing legal challenges to the state’s lethal injection method. The case at issue involves condemned killer Ernest Dewayne Jones, on death row for two decades for a 1992 rape and murder. Carney found that delays in cases like Jones’ are “systemic, and the state itself is to blame.”