California’s death penalty system, plagued by delays and inadequate funding, may survive an appeals court’s scrutiny because of legal rules that limit federal oversight, a U.S. court panel indicated Monday.
During a hearing before a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel, three judges focused on procedural land mines that could imperil last year’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney declaring California’s system of capital punishment unconstitutional. None of the 9th Circuit judges revealed any leanings, but all focused on legal rules that might require them to overturn Carney’s decision.
Judge Paul J. Watford, an Obama appointee, said he had “major problems” with the fact that Carney ruled on an issue not yet addressed by the California Supreme Court.
Carney determined that decades-long delays and dysfunction render California’s death penalty arbitrary and unconstitutional. Legal rules require death row inmates to litigate or “exhaust” all their claims in state court, except in rare cases, before federal judges may review them.
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