Judge Cormac J. Carney today declared the California death penalty unconstitutional in a ruling on a petition by death row inmate Ernest Dewayne Jones.
The U.S. District Court of Orange County judge ruled the punishment goes against the U.S. Constitution’s 8th Amendment.
Here’s what you need to know about Carney and his historic ruling.
1. He Ruled the Death Penalty Is Cruel & Unusual
Carney delivered the opinion that the death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution’s 8th Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Death row inmates spend every day not knowing whether their execution will actually take place or if they will simply die naturally while they wait. That uncertainty is what Carney found went against the Constitutional ban, he wrote in his decision (see above):
…The dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution. Indeed, for most, systemic delay has made their execution so unlikely that the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.
Thomas H. Bienert Jr. of the San Clemente firm Bienert, Miller & Katzman told the LA Times after a case in 2009 that Carney always takes a “strong position” on his rulings:
He has a strong sense of right and wrong. Judge Carney has shown a willingness to take a strong position outside the norm when he believes it’s the just thing to do.
2. California Has Executed 13 of the 900 People Sentenced to Death Since 1978
California voted to reinstitute the death penalty in 1978. Since then, the state has sentenced 900 criminals to death but has only executed 13 of them.
Jones received his death sentence in 1995 when a jury convicted him of the first degree murder of Julia Miller that included rape, according to the court opinion. Miller was stabbed to death including two knives left sticking out of her neck, 14 stab wounds to the abdomen and one to the vagina.
3. George W. Bush Appointed Carney in 2003
In January 2003, President George W. Bush nominated Carney to the United States District Court for the Central District of California. The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination and he received his commission to the post in April.
Carney graduated from Harvard Law School in 1987. Before his nomination, he worked in private practice for 15 years in Los Angeles. In 2001, California Governor Gray Davis appointed Carney to the California Superior Court in Orange County where he served for two years.
4. He’s Known for Bold Decisions That Go Against the Grain
Carney doesn’t play favorites when he hands down his rulings. He’s ruled in favor of a Washington Times reporter withholding his sources’ names, but sentenced a 60-year-old Ponzi schemer to a 30-year prison term in 2006. Bienert told the Los Angeles Times that Carney “will take bold action” in his decisions:
Judge Carney has demonstrated that he will take bold action even when it goes against the grain of what the government is asking for.
5. Carney Played Football for the UCLA Bruins
After a year at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Carney transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied psychology. He played football for the Bruins for three years and racked up a school-high 108 receptions for 1,909 yards. He graduated in 1983 as the team’s all-time leading receiver.