California's system of capital punishment violates the US constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, US District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled on Wednesday.
Carney said that arbitrary factors determine whether or not a death sentence is actually carried out, "not legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence." Due to a lengthy appeals process, most condemned inmates sit on death row for decades and are more likely to die from natural causes.
"Inordinate and unpredictable delay has resulted in a death penalty system in which very few of the hundreds of individuals sentenced to death have been, or even will be, executed by the State," Carney wrote.
Since California voters adopted the state's current system of capital punishment 35 years ago, 900 people have been sentenced to death. But executions have been carried out in only 13 of those cases.
'Broken beyond repair'
Anti-death penalty activist Gil Garcetti, a former Los Angeles County district attorney, called Wednesday's ruling "truly historic."
"It further proves that the death penalty is broken beyond repair," Garcetti said, calling for capital punishment to be replaced with life imprisonment without parole.
In 2006, a federal judge suspended all executions in California out of concern that the state's procedures for administering lethal injection created too great a risk that the inmate would suffer from severe pain.
slk/crh (AP, dpa)