Court Considers Challenge to California Death Penalty

A federal appeals court considering whether California’s death penalty is unconstitutional because of excessive delays focused Monday on procedural issues over whether a novel legal theory had been addressed by the state Supreme Court.

In the case of a Los Angeles rapist and murderer on death row for more than two decades, three judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wanted to know if all appeals were exhausted in state court before a federal judge ruled last year that the death penalty was dysfunctional because of unpredictable delays that seldom lead to executions.

Few would argue that California’s death penalty provides swift justice.

More prisoners have died of natural causes on death row than have perished in the death chamber. More than 900 killers have been sentenced to death since 1978, but only 13 have been executed.