A federal judge ruled California's death penalty unconstitutional Wednesday, writing that lengthy and unpredictable delays have resulted in an arbitrary and unfair capital punishment system.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney represents a legal victory for those who want to abolish the death penalty in California and follows a similar ruling that has suspended executions in the state for eight years.
Carney, in a case brought by a death row inmate against the warden of San Quentin state prison, called the death penalty an empty promise that violates the Eighth Amendment's protection against 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," wrote Carney, a George W. Bush appointee.
He noted that death penalty appeals can last decades and, as a result, most condemned inmates are likely to die of natural causes before their executions are carried out.
Carney also wrote that since the current death penalty system was adopted by California voters 35 years ago, more than 900 people have been sentenced to death, but only 13 have been executed.