‘Everything new’, it used to be said, ‘’comes from California.’
Perhaps not everything, but a Federal District Court there has just ruled that the death penalty, as practiced in the Golden State, is unconstitutional, in light of the long dreadful waits between sentencing and executions.
Judges have hinted around this theme for years, but this is the first time I’ve heard an American judge actually grant such a claim.
In the legal literature this is known as ‘the death penalty phenomenon’, or how extended stays on death row can cause severe mental illness, debilitating physical impairments, and, for some, the desire to commit suicide to end such conditions. There are some 700 men and women on California’s Death Row.
Certainly, under international law, this symptom is recognized, and has for decades been the basis of relief and the removal of the death sentence.
Capital cases from both Jamaica and Zimbabwe came to similar conclusions in the 1990s. *
Now, an American judge has decided that such extended delays on Death Row constitute a violation of the 8thAmendment, forbidding cruel and unusual punishments.
Soon, it will make its way to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – and thereafter?
We shall see what we shall see.