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August 5, 2015

Gearing up for the Ninth Circuit's consideration of the arbitrariness of California's capital punishment system

Reader may recall that a little over a year ago, as first reported in this July 2014 post, US District Judge  Cormac Carney ruled in Jones v. Chappell (now Jones v. Davis) that California's administration of capital punishment was unconstitutional.  That ruling was based on the judge's conclusion that California operated a death penalty "system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed [, and which consequently] serves no penological purpose."   This Jones ruling was appealed by the state of California to the Ninth Circuit, and the Ninth Circuit is finally scheduled to hear oral argument in the case on the last day of this month.

As detailed in some prior posts below, a number of factors make Jones an interesting ruling that go beyond its basic significance of deeming unconstitutional the state capital system with the most persons serving time on death row.  And, as revealed via this Ninth Circuit webpage, various amici have submitted briefs to the Ninth Circuit urging reversal or affirmance of the Jones decision. 

This preview post now (with perhaps more to follow) was by this new Washington Post piece, headlined "The death penalty is about to go on trial in California. Here’s why it might lose." The piece is authored by Prof Frank Baumgartner, and here are excerpts:

Carney argued that because of the extremely low likelihood of execution and long delays on death row, the system was actually a penalty of life without parole with the remote possibility of death.  His ruling declared that execution after such a long delay serves no retributive or deterrent purpose beyond the long prison term, and is therefore arbitrary and unconstitutional.  As Carney wrote in his California decision, no rational jury or legislature would design a system that functions as the system actually works.  But, he argued, we must evaluate the system we do have, not the one we might prefer to have....

Supporters of the death penalty argue that Carney overstepped with his sweeping decision throwing out the entire California death penalty.  Oral arguments in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will begin at the end of this month.  California certainly was at the low end of the distribution of “efficiency” in carrying out its death sentences....  Out of more than 900 death sentences, the state has carried out just 13 executions.  It stands as one of the few states, along with Pennsylvania, that has large numbers of death sentences that result in very few executions.

Prior related posts:

August 5, 2015 at 05:33 PM | Permalink


How does one find out which Circuit Judges are on the panel for this matter?

Posted by: USPO | Aug 5, 2015 7:17:01 PM

It is possible California authorities have known for years the capital offense trial process is not as reliable as once thought. Of course, no one can say, "X% of death row inmates are probably innocent and we don't know which ones they are, so we delay all executions just in case." This wouldn't be the sole reason for the slowdown of executions, but it could be an important contributing factor.

Posted by: George | Aug 5, 2015 7:29:46 PM

I must appreciate the way you have express your feelings through your blog!

Posted by: Jake | Aug 6, 2015 5:10:28 AM

It usually shows the judges on the oral argument page but does not on the cases listed. Let us hope Reinhardt isn't on the panel or it will take forever for an opinion to be released.

Posted by: DaveP | Aug 6, 2015 10:03:29 AM

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