A federal judge ruled California’s death penalty unconstitutional, finding that the sentence “serves no penological purpose.”

US District Judge Cormac J. Carney, a George W. Bush appointee, issued a strong condemnation of the state’s capital punishment system in a 29-page ruling filed Wednesday. Judge Carney criticized the state of limbo the California system creates for those receiving the death penalty, calling it an “arbitrary” and “unpredictable” sentence.

Ernest Dewayne Jones, the plaintiff in the case, was first put on death row 19 years ago. In April 1995, Jones was charged with the rape and stabbing murder of his girlfriend’s mother. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Jones trial played out a few doors away from the much-publicized O.J. Simpson trial without drawing comparable fanfare or legal resources, opening up the question of whether poorer defendants are disadvantaged in the system. Judge Carney’s decision vacates Jones’ death sentence.

California has the nation’s largest death row population, but has not executed anyone since 2006, when a federal court found problems with the lethal injection procedure. California voters, however, approved the death penalty in 1972, 1978, and narrowly again in 2012, with 48 percent of Californians voting to replace it with life in prison without parole.

Wednesday’s decision is not expected to lead to any immediate changes. A spokesperson for Attorney General Kamala Harris said the office is reviewing the ruling.

Media Resources: Wall Street Journal 7/16/14; U.S. District Court Central District of California 7/16/14; New York Times 7/16/14; SF Gate 7/16/14; Los Angeles Times 4/6/95

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