Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Judge declares death penalty unconstitutional in California

Earnest Dewayne Jones was sentenced to death in California for raping and killing his girlfriend's mother in 1992. He is one of more than 900 inmates in California who have been sentenced to die since 1978. Over that time only 13 executions have taken place, none since 2006.

Last week U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney ruled in Mr. Jones' favor when he declared that California's use (or non-use) of the death penalty was unconstitutional. He found that carrying out so few executions and forcing inmates to sit on death row for decades didn't serve as a deterrent. In fact, it made the use of capital punishment arbitrary.

From NPR:
"No rational person can question that the execution of an individual carries with it the solemn obligation of the government to ensure that the punishment is not arbitrarily imposed and that it furthers the interests of society," Carney wrote.
Judge Carney's decision marks the first time a judge has declared capital punishment unconstitutional due to the delays in carrying out executions. Of course death penalty supporters got their argument backwards. Kent Sheidegger of California's pro-death penalty Criminal Legal Defense Foundation found the delay in carrying out executions wasn't a violation of inmate's rights but a violation of victims' rights.

Maybe Mr. Sheidegger and the members of his group could point out to me where in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights there is any reference to the concept of victims' rights. You can find it in various state constitutions as state legislators never pass up an opportunity to pander to the right in order to appear tough on crime, but the concept has no legal basis.

Criminal activity is prosecuted by the state, not the victim. The concept is that a person who commits a criminal act has violated a social compact and should be punished by society for his or her actions. There is no room in such a scheme for the revenge - in fact, the entire point of having the state prosecute crimes is to take revenge out of the equation entirely.

Our constitutional protections for the accused are designed to ensure to protect the individual from the awesome power of the state - they are to apply regardless of the level of offense. Our jury selection systems are designed to prevent those directly affected by a crime from deciding the fate of the accused.

But then again, the death penalty has never been about anything more than revenge.

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