Federal judge finds California’s death penalty unconstitutional

Not long after reports of Oklahoma’s “botched execution” of Clayton Lockett, comes news that California’s death penalty has been ruled unconstitutional by Federal District Court Judge Cormac Carney.

Judge Carney found that the practice of imposing the death penalty in California violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and called California’s system “dysfunctional” and “arbitrary” in his 29-page order.  Much of Judge Carney’s analysis focused on the extreme delays in the imposition of the death penalty. He went on to note that more than 900 people have been sentenced to death row in California since 1978, but that only 13 have been executed.

In addition to lengthy delays, Judge Carney also found that many delays were not based on objective criteria, which left inmates without any certainty as to when, or even if, they would be executed. He went on to state that the death penalty in California “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.”

Following Oklahoma’s botched execution earlier this year, the UN Has urged the United States to impose a death penalty moratorium. For similar reasons, the Ninth Circuit issued a preliminary injunction just yesterday in Joseph Rudolph Wood’s case, postponing his execution until prison officials reveal details on the two-drug combination that will be used for the lethal injection.

Clearly this is a system in need of major reform – or better yet, abolishment. Though Oregon still technically has the death penalty on its books, Governor John Kitzhaber issued a moratorium in November 2011. Despite this, individuals are still sentenced to death row, and 8 inmates in Oregon have currently been on death row for more than 25 yearsThe last person to die on death row in Oregon was Gary Zweigert in 2013, and he died of natural causes.