California’s Death Penalty Upheld

An appeals court upholds California's death penalty, but on procedural grounds rather than weighing in on capital punishment. Credit: David Hills/iStockphoto

The death penalty is back on the books in California – more or less.

A panel of judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday rejected a lower court ruling that had declared the capital punishment system in the Golden State unconstitutional. But Professor Ellen Kreitzberg, who heads the Death Penalty College at Santa Clara University, said the appeals court judges didn’t actually disagree with the earlier ruling; they just said they don’t have the power to decide this claim. “They ruled on procedural grounds and did not comment one way or the other,” she said. “They did not reject the claim – that the system is so dysfunctional and it leads to delays so lengthy that it violates the Eighth Amendment.”

Now the death row defendant in the case, Ernest Jones, and his lawyers will decide whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kreitzberg said that even if Jones gives up the fight, he probably won’t be executed for a long time since the drug protocol California wants to use for lethal injections is under review by the Department of Corrections. The public comment period on that is open until January.

“California still has no protocol that’s in place,” she said. “We’re a year away now from being in a position to have an execution.”

California hasn’t had an execution since 2006. A ballot measure to repeal the death penalty failed in 2012 by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

The decision is online at ca9.uscourts.gov.

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