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Shocker: the death penalty in California is a joke.
Okay, we all knew that. It's a ridiculously expensive, wasteful, inefficient, broken, delayed, and completely and utterly dysfunctional system that, quite frankly, isn't doing its job: killing killers. Out of more than 900 sentenced to death, the state has only executed 13 since 1978 -- less than two percent. And any deterrent effect, after waiting decades for sentences to maybe, just maybe, be carried out is minimal at this point.
Whatever adjective you choose to describe our system in the Golden State, U.S. District Court Judge Carmac Carney has two more to add to that list: arbitrary and unconstitutional.
Underfunded System Full of Delays
It's no longer a death penalty: it's "life in prison, with the remote possibility of death," Carmac concluded.
He got there after running through a number of surprising statistics, including:
His data comes from a multitude of sources, including one study by Senior Judge Arthur L. Alarcon, a published lecture by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, and multiple writings by former California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George. All agree: this a broken system.
So, given the underfunded and delayed system, who is actually executed? Judge Carnac notes that it isn't about the severity of the crime or the date the sentence is imposed -- it's absolutely arbitrary, and depends simply on when the case can be squeezed through California's underfunded and "dysfunctional" system.
In Furman v. Georgia, a plurality decision with no controlling majority, Justice Stewart noted that the Constitution, specifically the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, "cannot tolerate the infliction of a sentence of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed."
Furthermore, Carmac wrote that the decades-delayed executions are too far removed from the crime to serve the penological goals of society -- deterrence and retribution. As Justice White stated in Furman, the arbitrary imposition of the death penalty "would be the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernable social or public purposes. A penalty with such negligible returns to the State would be patently excessive and cruel and unusual punishment violative of the Eighth Amendment."
And while other courts have held that delay alone doesn't violate the Eighth Amendment, these weren't delays in the interest of fair administration of justice -- this is just a broken (and unconstitutional) system.
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