This is an unexpected and welcome development. Let's hope it means California will do away with capital punishment altogether.
U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney handed down an order Wednesday, finding that the system is arbitrary and in violation of the Constitution's 8th Amendment.
"California's death penalty system is so plagued by inordinate and unpredictable delay that the death sentence is actually carried out against only a trivial few of those sentenced to death," Carney writes. "For all practical purposes then, a sentence of death in California is a sentence of life imprisonment with the remote possibility of death -- a sentence no rational legislature or jury could ever impose."
Carney continues: "Inordinate and unpredictable delay... 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."
The ruling also vacated the death sentence of petitioner Ernest Dewayne Jones (whose middle name has also appeared in news reports as "Dwayne"). Jones was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1995.