A federal judge last week ruled that California’s death penalty with its decades-long delays and uncertainty violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel or unusual punishment.
The ruling will reignite California’s death penalty debate and the case will surely make it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
HISTORY OF DEATH PENALTY
In the 19th century, hanging was the preferred method of executing bad guys in the United States. In the early 1900s, electrocution was the way to go – so to speak.
In the 1970s, state legislators moved away from electrocution and now 36 states have adopted lethal injection as the means of implementing the death penalty.
California outlawed gas chambers in 1995. Two states still allow hanging and Idaho allows death by firing squad. Firing squad looks pretty solid compared to some of the recent mishaps in lethal injection.
UNCONSTITUTIONAL IN CALIFORNIA
In Ernest Dewayne Jones v. Kevin Chappell, Warden of California State Prison at San Quentin, District Judge Cormac J. Carney indicted California’s dysfunctional death penalty system.
Judge Carney’s decision was loaded with statistics. More than 900 people have been sentenced to death in California since 1978, only 13 have been executed.
For convicted criminals that challenge the State’s death sentence, the process takes over 20 years. More than 40 percent of California’s death row inmates have been there longer than 19 years.
The backlog of death row inmates is growing significantly and reportedly will cost $9 billion to maintain by 2030. That’s “B” as in Billion.
Ernest Dewayne Jones was sentenced to die for the 1992 rape and murder of Julia Miller, his girlfriend’s mother. He was sentenced to death in April 1995.
He waited approximately four years before the State appointed counsel to represent him in his direct appeal, than another four years later, the California Supreme Court affirmed Mr. Jones’ conviction. But that was only round one.
Mr. Jones’ state habeas counsel was appointed on October 2000. The California Supreme Court denied his petition in 2009.
In March of 2010, Mr. Jones filed his petition for federal habeas relief, which is still under court review. And his case is just warming up.
“Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?”
FREE AT LAST?
Mr. Jones may have won his case before Judge Carney, but he faces an uphill battle moving forward, especially with the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative Justices.
He won’t be seeing daylight anytime soon, never in fact, but he’ll tie up the legal system for decades. A total waste for all parties.
COST OF DEATH PENALTY
A recent Los Angeles Times study found that California execution cases, when all costs are considered, cost $250 million each — with average delay from conviction to execution, should there ever be an execution which is ever so rare — of 20 years.
Several studies document there is no deterrent to crime from the death penalty. That makes sense.
Do you really think a hardened criminal, before he or she pulls the trigger thinks, “I better not commit this crime because 20 years from now after I’ve cost the State over $200 million, I could be executed.”
The Times study revealed that the State’s death row prisoners cost $184 million more per year than those sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In almost all death row cases, that money is spent without any execution taking place. What’s the point?
While I personally do not find death by lethal injection to be cruel and unusual punishment, it’s a gross injustice to spend on average of $250 million on each death row inmate, only to not execute the inmate — except in a rare and random case — 20 years later.
All the while, families of victims grieve; and with no deterrent effect.
Unless California’s death penalty system is fixed, which would require hundreds of millions of dollars annually — which is unlikely in today’s political climate — it should be abolished.
A dysfunctional death penalty serves no purpose.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.portersimon.com.