Judges’ procedural questions hint at skepticism on California death penalty ban

1 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

California Court To Rule If Death Penalty Delays Constitute Cruel, Unusual Punishment.

A federal appeals court, reviewing a ruling that could end California’s death penalty, appeared concerned Monday that procedural requirements might prevent it from deciding whether the state system was so dysfunctional as to be unconstitutional.

In question after question, three judges on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, convening in Pasadena, sought information on whether the case should be returned to state court or whether other legal impediments to a full-blown ruling on California’s system applied. Judge Paul Watford, a President Obama appointee, said he had “major problems” with a lower court’s decision that the federal bench could rule on the matter before the California Supreme Court weighed in.

US district judge Cormac Carney ruled in the case of a Los Angeles rapist and murderer that the state’s death penalty was dysfunctional and offered an empty promise seldom leading to executions while jamming up death row. “Inordinate and unpredictable delay has resulted in a death penalty system in which very few of the hundreds of individuals sentenced to death have been, or even will be, executed,” wrote Carney, a President George W Bush appointee. Prosecutors argued in court papers that the state cannot be faulted for having a procedure that protects the interest of everyone with a stake in a case. Harris appealed Carney’s decision, arguing the delays stem from efforts to ensure fairness and accuracy in the legal process and challenging the right of federal judges to overturn the system.

Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, who attended the hearing, said it appeared death penalty opponents faced “an uphill battle” with the court. He also said the uncertainty of his execution inflicts suffering and, if it ever goes forward, it will serve no legitimate purpose for retribution or deterring other criminals. No executions have been carried out in California since 2006 after another federal judge ordered an overhaul of the state’s procedures for lethal injection. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is drafting new lethal-injection regulations after governor Jerry Brown said the state would switch from a three-drug mixture to a single-drug lethal injection. Watford, an Orange County native appointed by President Obama, spent about three years as a federal prosecutor before returning to private law practice.

Supreme Court. “I think Carney’s opinion is very strong as to why the system violates the 8th Amendment” ban on cruel and unusual punishment, Chemerinsky said. His decision found California’s system was “arbitrary” — death row inmates wait for years before they can obtain qualified lawyers willing to take their cases and most die of causes other than lethal injection. 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. Harris, asking the 9th Circuit to overturn Carney, called his reasoning “a novel theory that has never before been adopted by any United States court.” Michael Laurence, Jones’ lawyer, countered that there are exceptions to the procedural rules.

A state commission several years ago investigated California’s death penalty and issued a report that said substantial sums were needed to accelerate the system. 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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