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.

SEE ALSO: Judge under fire for asking rape victim why she couldn't just keep her knees together

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:

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Notable death penalty executions and people on death row
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US appeals court rejects challenge to California death penalty
Seated on his bunk in the death cell of Iberia Parish Courthouse, convinced that 'The Lord is Still with Me,' is Willie Francis, a 17-year-old who won a million-to-one chance of a reprieve from death when the electric chair failed to kill him, or even hurt him, at his scheduled execution on May 3. Sentenced to die for the murder of a St. Martinville druggist a year ago, Francis was strapped in the chair. The current was applied. The doomed man squirmed and jumped. But when the current was shut off, he was unharmed. 'It tickled a little,' he said. The state will try again to carry out the execution on Thursday May 9th.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

This is John Wayne Gacy's police arrest photo from Dec. 21, 1978. Following intensive research, investigation and surveillance, Gacy was arrested by the Des Plaines (Ill.) Police Department on Thursday, Dec. 21, 1978. After being charged with and serving time for 33 murders, Gacy was executed in 1994 by lethal injection. Today, Monday, Nov. 23, 1998, technicians began preliminary work on a possible excavation at an apartment building on Chicago's Northwest Side in search of as many as four more possible victims of the mass murderer. The apartment building at one time, was the home of Gacy's mother, and Gacy had done some construction work there. The information regarding the location was recently released from a retired Chicago police officer who said he had seen Gacy carrying a shovel near the area at about 3 a.m. one day in 1975. The former officer reportedly thought little of the Gacy sighting until three years later, when Gacy was charged with 33 murders. The apartment building is about four miles away from Gacy's house.

(Des Plaines Police Department, Tim Boyle)

A portrait of mass murderer Ted Bundy, responsible for a string of murders in Washington state, Utah, and Florida in the 1970s. He was executed in in Florida on January 24, 1989. His actual victim count remains unknown.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Aileen Wuornos is shown in this undated photograph from the Florida Department of Corrections. Wournos was executed by lethal injection October 9, 2002 in Florida for murdering six men when she was a prostitute.

(Photo by Florida DOC/Getty Images)

Admitted mass-slayer Charles Starkweather is shown entering court for the second day of his trial for murder. Starkweather admitted killing 11 people and was executed in Nebraska on June 25, 1959. 

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is shown being escorted from the Noble County Courthouse as he is transported to Oklahoma City for arraignment in this April 22, 1995 file photo. On June 11, 2001, McVeigh was executed after being sentenced to death for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, a crime that took 168 lives and shook a complacent America to the core.

(Jim Bourg / Reuters)

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

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Media witnesses to the firing squad execution of John Albert Taylor examine the chair in which Taylor sat as he was shot to death at 12:03 a.m. Mountain time January 26 at the Unita State Penitentiary in Utah. The execution of Taylor was the first by firing squad in the United States since the 1977 execution of Gary Gilmore in Utah.

(POOL New / Reuters)

Stanley 'Tookie Williams' was responsible for several murders and other crimes and was executed in California on December 13, 2005. Williams helped found the Crips gang, but was later nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his anti-gang efforts. He authored such books as 'Life in Prison,' encouraging kids to stay out of gangs, and his memoir 'Blue Rage, Black Redemption'.'

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Teresa Lewis, convicted of murdering her husband and stepson, was executed in Virginia on September 23, 2010. She was the first woman executed in the state in nearly 100 years.

(REUTERS/Virginia Department of Corrections/Handout)

William Bonin (left), a 33-year-old truck driver and registered sex offender, was accused of the 'torture' murders of at least 13 and possibly 21 young males, suspected victims of the so called 'Freeway Killer. He was executed in California on February 23, 1996.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department also said Vernon Butts (right) was an accomplice in at least six of the 21 murders.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

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

(Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist charged in a mass shooting at the U.S. Army post in Fort Hood, Texas, was sentenced to death on August 28, 2013.

(Ho New / Reuters)

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

 (Photo provided by Kootenai County Sheriff's Department via Getty Images)

Coy Wesbrook was executed in 2016. He fatally shot five people in 1997 with a hunting rifle in a killing spree launched when he found his ex-wife having sex with other men.

(REUTERS/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout via Reuters)

Dylann Roof, the man convicted of murdering nine worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston was condemned to death by a federal jury on January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/Charleston County Sheriff's Office/Handout)

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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

11 PHOTOS
Notorious women on death row
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US appeals court rejects challenge to California death penalty
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)
Lisa Montgomery, 36, of Melvern, Kansas, the woman who FBI agents say confessed to the kidnapping and murder of eight months pregnant Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 23, has been charged under federal law with kidnapping resulting in death. Montgomery, seen in a booking photo released by the Wyandotte County Sheriff's Department on December 20, 2004 is accused of cutting Stinnett's unborn fetus from her body during the murder and taking the baby home alive. The baby is reportedly now in good condition at a local hospital. REUTERS/Wyandotte County Sheriff's Department/Handout jrb
Death row inmate Kelly Renee Gissendaner is seen in an undated picture from the Georgia Department of Corrections. Gissendaner, sent to Georgia's death row for the murder of her husband, is due to die by lethal injection on February 24, 2015, the first time in 70 years the state would execute a female prisoner. REUTERS/Georgia Department of Corrections/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
(Original Caption) Fugitives Alton Coleman and Debra Brown express little emotion as they are arraigned 1/9 on a series of charges, including two counts of aggravated murder, as an unidentified sheriff's deputy stands guard. Coleman and Brown allegedly went on a six-state crime spree last summer and were captured in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois.
Death row inmate Michelle Byrom, 57, is seen in a Mississippi Department of Corrections photo taken January 11, 2011. Byrom, who has been convicted of murder, could become the first female prisoner executed in the state in 70 years, as defense attorneys on March 27, 2014 pressed for a last-minute reprieve arguing her son has repeatedly confessed to the crime. Handout picture taken January 11, 2011. REUTERS/Mississippi Department of Corrections/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW HEADSHOT) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice photo shows Suzanne Margaret Basso, a death row inmate in this photo released to Reuters on February 5, 2014. Basso was convicted along with other co-defendants of kidnapping and beating a mentally impaired man to death with baseball bats to collect money from an insurance policy they took out on him. Texas is set to execute Basso at 6 p.m. CST on Wednesday (0000 GMT, Thursday). REUTERS/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW HEADSHOT) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Kimberly McCarthy is shown in this undated Texas Department of Criminal Justice photograph. A Texas judge postponed until April the execution of Kimberly McCarthy, who was scheduled to die by lethal injection later on January 29, 2013, to give lawyers more time to present evidence of racial discrimination in selection of the jury which convicted her. REUTERS/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW HEADSHOT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Kansas City native Cathy Henderson is photographed in the visitation room at Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas, February 20, 2007. Henderson has been sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of a 3-month-old boy she was babysitting. If given a lethal injection on April 18 in Texas, she will be only the 12th woman executed in the modern era. (Photo by David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty Images)
Lisa Ann Coleman, 38, of Texas Death Row, who is scheduled for execution by lethal injection at the Huntsville Unit in Huntsville, Texas on September 17, 2014 is shown in this Texas Department of Criminal Justice photo. Coleman would be the second woman executed in the United States this year and the 15th since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. REUTERS/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW HEADSHOT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Christa Gail Pike, 36, the only woman on Tennessee's Death Row, is pictured in this 2007 Tennessee Department of Correction booking photograph obtained by Reuters March 22, 2012. A prison guard and the boyfriend of Pike, have been charged in connection with a plan to break her out of the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville. A grand jury indicted 23-year-old Justin Heflin, previously a correctional officer at the Tennessee Prison for Women, on one count of bribery, one count of official misconduct, one count of conspiracy to commit escape and one count of facilitation to commit escape. Donald Kohut, 34, an acquaintance of Pike who frequently visited her in prison, was indicted on one count of bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit escape. REUTERS/Tennessee Department of Correction/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW SOCIETY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
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