The Same Death Penalty Circus… Just a Different Day


Today the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling which had found California’s death penalty unconstitutional. But although death penalty proponents may be claiming a big victory, today’s ruling is just another example of how dysfunctional California’s death penalty system is.

In fact, the high court ruled that it is not allowed to rule on whether California’s death penalty is constitutional or not. Yes. That’s right: based on procedural technicalities, the 9th Circuit couldn’t even address the real issue at hand.

Last July, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled that California’s death penalty system was unconstitutional, noting how dysfunctional the system was and pointing to the fact that the death penalty serves no useful purpose whatsoever.

Today’s result is just more of the status quo. What’s more, today’s decision does nothing to change the fact that California’s death penalty is broken beyond repair.

So what happens now?

Well, more of what always happens with the death penalty: years and years of additional court appeals and billions of dollars spent on a system that exists in name only – which is exactly how the system is set to work.

Meanwhile, California has embarked on a lengthy, costly and futile process to develop new lethal injection protocol.

At the end of the day, what Californians are seeing is their precious tax dollars being misdirected toward funding a broken system that has failed to deliver on its promise of justice time and again.

When will enough be enough?

by Ana Zamora is Criminal Justice Policy Director at the ACLU of Northern California.

San Quentin