US appeals court rejects challenge to California death penalty

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California Court Rejects Death Penalty Challenge

A U.S. appeals court on Thursday unanimously rejected a constitutional challenge to the death penalty in California, overturning a lower court ruling that had found the system too arbitrary.

A California prisoner, Ernest Jones, had argued that long delays in the judicial process surrounding the death penalty in California made the punishment arbitrary and unconstitutional. Jones was sentenced to death by a jury in 1995 for the rape and murder of his girlfriend's mother.

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Last summer a U.S. District Judge, Cormac Carney, agreed in his case, overturning Jones' death sentence and citing the oftentimes decades-long judicial review process involved in putting an inmate to death. Carney said it amounted to a violation of the Constitution's prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris appealed, maintaining that the long appeals process represents an important safeguard for people condemned to death.

See the most notable death penalty cases in history:

Notable death penalty executions and people on death row
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US appeals court rejects challenge to California death penalty

Willie Francis, the first known incident of failed execution by lethal injection, was executed on May 9, 1947. He was sentenced to death for the murder of his former boss, Andrew Thomas. 

(AP Photo/File)

John Wayne Gacy, a rapist and serial killer responsible for the sexual assaults and murders of at least 33 men, was executed in Illinois on May 10, 1994. 

(AP Photo/File)

Ted Bundy, a kidnapper, rapist, and serial killer responsible for the assaults and murders of dozens of young women, was executed in in Florida on January 24, 1989. His actual victim count remains unknown.

(AP Photo/File)

Aileen Wuornos, a serial killer responsible for the deaths of seven men, was executed in Florida on October 9, 2002. 

(AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove)

Charles Starkweather, a spree killer responsible for eleven murders, was executed in Nebraska on June 25, 1959. 

(AP Photo/Don Ultang)

Timothy McVeigh, responsble for the Oklahoma City bombing, was executed in Indiana on June 11, 2001.

(AP Photo/File)

Thomas Provenzano, a convicted murderer responsible for shooting three people, was executed in Florida on June 21, 2000.

(AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove)

Gary Gilmore, responsible for the shooting deaths of two men, was executed in Utah on January 17, 1977.

(AP Photo)

Stanley "Tookie" Williams, founder and leader of the Crips gang responsible for several murders and other crimes, was executed in California on December 13, 2005.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Teresa Lewis, convicted of murdering her husband and stepson, was executed in Virginia on September 23, 2010.

(AP Photo/Va Dept of Corrections)

William Bonin, a serial killer responsible for a minimum of 21 rapes and murders, was executed in California on February 23, 1996.

(AP Photo/File)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, responsible for Boston Marathon bombing, was sentenced to death on May 15, 2015.

(AP Photo/Federal Bureau of Investigation, File)

Nidal Malik Hasan, responsible for Ford Hood shooting, was sentenced to death on August 28, 2013.

(AP Photo/Bell County Sheriff's Department, File)

Joseph E. Duncan III, a convicted murderer and sex offender, was sentenced to death on August 27, 2008.

(AP Photo/Kootenai County First Appearance Video Court)

Death row prisoner Coy Wayne Wesbrook is photographed Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit outside Livingston, Texas. Wesbrook, 58, is set for lethal injection March 9, 2016, for the November 1997 fatal shootings of his ex-wife and another man at her apartment in Channelview, just east of Houston. They were among five people killed during the shooting rampage. (AP Photo/Michael Graczyk)

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Thursday ruled in favor of the state, saying Jones' constitutional claim was too novel and must be denied.

"Many agree with Petitioner that California's capital punishment system is dysfunctional and that the delay between sentencing and execution in California is extraordinary," the judges wrote in their decision.

But, the judges said, case law has established that habeas corpus is meant to ensure that state convictions comply with federal law, not provide an ongoing mechanism to reassess judgments in light of new legal doctrine.

"Because Petitioner asks us to apply a novel constitutional rule, we may not assess the substantive validity of his claim," the judges wrote.

California, which has more than 740 prisoners on death row, has put 13 people to death since 1978 but has not executed a condemned inmate since 2006. Several inmates awaiting execution at San Quentin State Prison have been behind bars on death row for more than three decades.

The ruling on Thursday came a week after California published its proposed rules for lethal injection of condemned inmates, moving the state a step closer to resuming executions.

The proposed regulations would instruct prison officials to use a single drug for lethal injections, rather than the three-drug cocktail that was declared unconstitutional by a California court because it may not block pain to the recipient.

(Reporting by Dan Levine and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Christian Plumb and Frances Kerry)

RELATED: See women on death row

Women on Death Row
See Gallery
US appeals court rejects challenge to California death penalty
Wendi Andriano shows how she pulled a phone cord that was wrapped around her neck during testimony in her murder trial Thursday, Oct. 28, 2004 in Maricopa County Superior Court in Mesa, Ariz. Andriano is accused of killing her terminally ill husband in 2000. (AP Photo/Tim Hacker, Pool)
Defendant Shawna Forde listens during opening arguments in her murder trial in Pima County Superior Court in Tucson, Ariz., on Tuesday Jan. 25, 2011. Forde is charged with first-degree murder in the May 2009 killings of 29-year-old Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter Brisenia at their Arivaca home. Prosecutors contend that the 42-year-old Forde thought Flores was a drug dealer. They claim she recruited a group to raid Flores' house for drugs, cash and guns to help fund her border protection group. (AP Photo/Greg Bryan, Pool)
Socorro Caro listens as former Ventura County Medical Examiner Warren Lovell testifies as an expert witness in her murder trial at Ventura County Superior Court, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2001, in Ventura, Calif. The defense used Lovell's testimony to further their claim that Caro did not shoot herself as the prosecution contends. Caro is accused of killing three of her four children in 1999. (AP Photo/Stephen Osman, Pool)
Susan Eubanks pauses from reading her lengthy statement to wipe tears during her sentencing hearing Wednesday, Oct. 13, 1999, in Vista, Calif. Eubanks, the admitted killer of her four sons, was sentenced by Judge Joan Weber to the death penalty. At right is Bill Rafael, one of her attorneys. (AP Photo/Charlie Neuman, POOL)
File--Veronica Gonzales, accused with her husband of murdering their niece Genny Rojas with scalding water, sits in a San Diego Courtroom in November, 1995. During the current trial of the couple their ten-year-old son has testified against them. It is believed to be the first time a child has ever testified against his parents in a death penalty case. (AP Photo/Union Tribune, Jerry McClard)
Lisa Montgomery sits before a federal judge in an artist rendering of her first hearing in U.S. Federal Court in Kansas City, Kan., Monday, Dec. 20, 2004. Montgomery is charged in the death of Bobbie Jo Stinnett, of Skidmore, Mo. (AP Photo/John Davis Carroll)
Sandi Dawn Nieves, 34, listens during a court appearance, Monday, July 13, 1998 in San Fernando, Calif., Municipal Court. Her arraignment for the killing of her four daughters was postponed till July 28, for an undisclosed reason. Nieves is being held without bail. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Mother Sandi Nieves in a family photo with her son and four daughters. She took the witness stand in San Fernando court on Monday and denied that she killed her four daughters in their Saugus home last year. They are pictured here in this family photo, along with her. The son, survived. (Photo by David Bohrer/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Antoinette Frank is escorted by police out of the Kim Anh Restaurant in New Orleans Thursday, Sept. 7, 1995. The jury at the first-degree murder trial of Antoinette Frank heard a tape recording Thursday in which the former policewoman admitted shooting two workers at a Vietnamese restaurant, where her former New Orleans Police Dept. partner also was killed. The statements, which cover almost two hours of interview, overshadowed a visit by the judge, jury and survivors from both families to the restaurant Thursday afternoon. (The Times-Picayune/Ted Jackson)
Blanche Taylor Moore, left, reacts with her attorney David Tamer as she is sentenced to death in Winston-Salem, N.C., in this 1990 photo. Moore was convicted of murdering her boyfriend, Raymond Reid, and is appealing her conviction with allegations against Tamer, the prosectutor and the presiding judge in the case. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Angela Darlene McAnulty sits in a Lane County Courtroom on the first day for presenting evidence in the sentencing phase of her murder trial in the death of her daughter Jeanette Maples, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011 in Eugene, Ore.. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch, Pool)
This 2009 photo provided by Tennessee Department of Correction shows Christa Gail Pike. Authorities in Tennessee say two men, including a former prison guard, have been arrested in a plot to break out Tennessee's lone female death row inmate, Christa Gail Pike. (AP Photo/Tennessee Department of Correction)
In this April 13, 2010 photo, Linda Carty, 51, who moved from St. Kitts in the British Virgin Islands to the U.S., poses for a photo at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Mountain View Unit outside Gatesville, Texas. Carty, a 51-year-old British grandmother convicted of murdering her 20-year-old neighbor Joana Rodriguez and kidnapping her newborn son, Ray, will soon get a date with the executioner, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected her last appeal on Monday May 3, 2010 by declining to review her case. It is scary," she told the AP recently from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Mountain View Unit near Gatesville. "You're talking about terminating my life for something I know for myself I didn't do. I'm supposed to be this bad criminal." (AP Photo/Michael Graczyk)
Darlie Routier, 26, of Rowlett, Texas, sits during an examination of evidence hearing in a Dallas, courtroom Wednesday, June 26, 1996. Routier faces two counts of capital murder in the June 6 slayings of her sons, 6-year-old Devon and 5-year-old Damon. She is being held on $1 million bond at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center. Routier claims that an intruder stabbed the brothers while they slept in the living room and then stabbed her before fleeing. (AP Photo/Ron Heflin)
FILE--Texas has seven women currently on death row at the Mountain View Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, in Gatesville, Texas. The list includes names and when they arrived at the facilities following their sentencing: Darlie Routier, scheduled to arrive Feb. 5, 1997; Pamela Lynn Perillo, arrived Sept. 4, 1980; Karla Faye Tucker, arrived Dec. 18, 1984; Betty Lou Beets, arrived Oct. 14, 1985; Frances Elaine Newton, arrived Nov. 17, 1988; Erica Yvonne Sheppard, arrived April 26, 1995; and Cathy Lynn Henderson, arrived June 1, 1995. (AP Photos, files)

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