California's capital punishment system has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney passed down the ruling, stating that the system as it is run now violates the Eighth Amendment, creating cruel and unusual punishment.
"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 by the State," Carney wrote in his ruling, according to the Associated Press.
He noted lengthy appeals that can last decades, resulting in a greater likelihood that death row inmates will die of natural causes than execution. In hard numbers, he pointed out that while more than 900 people have been sentenced to death since California voters adopted the death penalty 35 years ago, only 13 have been executed.
Because of how long an inmate must wait before an execution would be carried out, Carney wrote, "They will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary."
According to the AP, legal experts expect the case to echo around other states with the death penalty, and that continued appeals could lead this case ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court.
California's death penalty was put on hold in 2006 by another judge, after ruling that the state's lethal injection procedures needed an overhaul. That judge saw too much risk that an inmate would suffer extreme pain during execution, again violating their Eighth Amendment rights.
The California Department of Corrections has built a new execution chamber and made changes to its procedures, but no executions can take place until the new regulations are formally adopted. Further, a new judge has taken over this separate case, and has not yet ruled if the new changes are enough to restart executions.
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