October 25, 2014

Ruling against California death penalty could be raised in Missouri execution cases

A federal judge in California has ruled that state’s death penalty takes so long to be carried out it breaks the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling could have an impact on cases in Missouri.

Washington University Professor Peter Joy

Washington University Professor Peter Joy

The judge ruled that delays of 25 years or more for appeals and the rarely carrying out of executions by California mean that state’s death penalty has become arbitrary and pointless.

Washington University Law Professor Peter Joy says the ruling could come up in Missouri cases.

“Any lawyer representing somebody on death row who’s been on death row for a lengthy period of time should raise this argument now because there is this decision out there,” says Joy.

About 40 percent of California’s death row inmates have been there more than 19 years. Three Missouri inmates have been awaiting execution for 25 years, and about 22 percent of condemned Missouri inmates have been waiting 19 years or more.

Not all the delays cited by the judge stem from appeals.

Joy says also noted were, “delays [related to] the system itself, and have nothing to do with the person filing a lot of appeals.”

“Out in California,” says Joy, “There’s a much lengthier time before the court finds someone to appoint as a lawyer to represent people that have been convicted in their appeals and post-conviction relief. There isn’t that lengthy a time here in Missouri but there are still issues with the way the process works that take a long time.”

The issue could be raised by attorneys for Michael Shane Worthington, who Missouri is scheduled to execute August 6 and who has been awaiting execution for 15 years.