Court to Rule If California Death Penalty Is Cruel, Unusual

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Appeals panel set to hear arguments on constitutionality of state’s death penalty system.

When a federal appeals court hears arguments Monday on the constitutionality of California’s death penalty system, the judges’ questions are likely to be more about legal procedure than the “dysfunction” in the way the state handles capital punishment.

On Aug. 13, the Connecticut Supreme Court put an end to the possibility that an innocent person could ever be executed after having been wrongly convicted of a capital crime. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena will hear oral arguments Monday in a case that could lead to California’s death penalty being declared unconstitutional.

Legal scholars view the decision as one that could influence other states’ legislatures or high courts to repeal or strike down, respectively, existing capital punishment laws. District Judge Cormac Carney concluded that death sentences in California, where there are now more than 750 condemned killers at San Quentin, have been transformed into “life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.” The ruling has been put on hold while the 9th U.S.

In three separate dissenting opinions, the three opposing justices attacked the majority opinion as to whether capital punishment is in line with contemporary standards of decency, whether a societal aversion to the death penalty exists, and whether the death penalty is justified based upon deterrence and/or retribution. Carney in Santa Ana, Calif., last year found California’s system to be “so plagued by inordinate and unpredictable delay” that it violates the Eighth Amendment. Jones to be executed in such a system, where so many are sentenced to death but only a random few are actually executed, would offend the most fundamental of constitutional protections—that the government shall not be permitted to arbitrarily inflict the ultimate punishment of death,” wrote the judge, an appointee of President George W. Jones with the slight possibility of death, almost a generation after he was first sentenced, violates the Eight Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.” In a court filing, lawyers in California Attorney General Kamala D. 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.

Fortunately, this has not occurred in Connecticut, but we have seen multiple murder cases in which innocence was proven after an individual was convicted. 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 lawyers described the process as taking a “suitably deliberate pace” that is a safeguard against “arbitrariness and error.” Carney is a George W. With at least 40 percent of the state’s death row inmates now awaiting execution for two decades or longer, legal experts say the time may be ripe for the Supreme Court to use the California example to decide whether such delays render a state’s death penalty law unconstitutional.

Condemned inmates in California and elsewhere have tried the argument before, but Carney’s ruling broke new ground — and at least two Supreme Court justices, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, have already urged the court as recently as June to take up the broader question of the death penalty’s legality. “This is a distinct kind of messy in California,” said Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor and author of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog. “This is not a delay, delay, delay case. The appeals court panel is composed of Democratic appointees – Judges Susan Graber, Johnnie Rawlinson and Paul Watford – who are now facing a potentially momentous decision on an issue that had divided California and its leaders for a long time.

Monday’s live streamed hearing may provide clues to where the three middle-of-the-road judges on the 9th Circuit panel will come down on the question. Delays in cases, she wrote, serve “purposes of great importance: affording capital defendants a fair chance to frame and present challenges to their convictions and sentences, and then ensuring careful review of every legal challenge to a capital defendant’s conviction or sentence.” Mr.

In recent years, capital punishment has faced a number of challenges, from the growing number of exonerations of convicts—often because of new DNA evidence—to shortages of drugs used in lethal injections. Several lethal injections have taken far longer than anticipated, and states have opened the door to old execution methods, like the electric chair and the firing squad, in the event that lethal injection becomes unworkable. Last week, a federal judge in Mississippi put executions in the state on hold, ruling that the drugs to be used in coming executions don’t square with state-law requirements. In April of this year, the FBI formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI microscopic hair comparison unit gave flawed scientific testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants for more than a 20-year period before 2000.

Watford, an Orange County native appointed by President Obama, spent about three years as a federal prosecutor before returning to private law practice. In more than 95 percent of 268 trials reviewed, 26 of 28 examiners in the comparison unit overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors.

Forensic evidence, such as DNA, or hair and tissue samples, is only as probative or reliable as the individuals who gather and store such evidence, and those who conduct the forensic testing and testify as to their conclusions. Carney found that given the state’s administration of capital punishment, a possible death sentence has no value in deterring crime or bringing resolution to crime victims.

Sending the case back to state court would waste several more years, he said, and federal courts must intervene when a state allows “an intolerable situation” to fester. If the panel struck it down, “I do think there is going to be substantial discussion about whether or not this is a gift from the federal judiciary,” he said.

Kent Scheidegger, a director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said in written arguments that California could execute more people “if the federal courts did their job properly.”

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