United State Appeals Court for Ninth Circuit on Thursday unanimously upheld death penalty in California, overturning the District Court’s judgment.
The State of California authorizes the execution of a capital prisoner only after affording a full opportunity to seek review in state and federal courts. Judicial review ensures that executions meet constitutional requirements, but it also takes time. The Petitioner, Ernest DeWayne Jones had contended that this took too much time, such that only an arbitrary few prisoners were actually executed. The District Court had found this post conviction system of judicial review violative of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The Petitioner had been sentenced to death by a jury in 1995, for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s mother. The California Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in 2003, and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari that same year. The California Supreme Court had denied Petitioner’s state habeas petition in 2009.
He was granted relief by the District Court, which concluded that, “where the State permits the post-conviction review process to become so inordinately and unnecessarily delayed that only an arbitrarily selected few of those sentenced to death are executed, the State’s process violates the Eighth Amendment. Fundamental principles of due process and just punishment demand that any punishment, let alone the ultimate one of execution, be timely and rationally carried out.”
Reversing the District Court Ruling, Judge Susan Graber observed, “Many agree with Petitioner that California’s capital punishment system is dysfunctional and that the delay between sentencing and execution in California is extraordinary. But “the purpose of federal habeas corpus is to ensure that state convictions comply with the federal law in existence at the time the conviction became final, and not to provide a mechanism for the continuing reexamination of final judgments based upon later emerging legal doctrine.” Sawyer, 497 U.S. at 234. Because Petitioner asks us to apply a novel constitutional rule, we may not assess the substantive validity of his claim.”
Judge Johnnie Rawlinson concurred in Graber’s decision. The third judge on the panel, Paul Watford, agreed that the case should be dismissed, but for a different reason.
Read the Judgment here.