Supreme Court rejects death penalty case

Supreme Court rejects death penalty case
© Greg Nash

The Supreme Court on Monday denied review of a case challenging the constitutionality of long-delayed death sentences.

The case centered on Richard Boyer, who was sentenced to death in California 32 years ago. Boyer had asked the court to weigh whether the delay in carrying out his sentence violated the Eight Amendment’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

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In dissenting from the court’s majority decision to reject the case, Justice Stephen Breyer said the delays in Boyer’s sentence were the result of a system that the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice had called “dysfunctional.”

The commission released a report eight years ago, Breyer said, which found that more than 10 percent of the capital sentences issued in California since 1978 had been reversed. Many prisoners had died of natural causes before their sentences were carried out and more California death row inmates had committed suicide than had been executed by the state.

“Put simply, California’s costly ‘administration of the death penalty’ likely embodies three fundamental defects about which I have previously written: ‘(1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose,’ ” Breyer wrote in the order Monday. “For these reasons, I respectfully dissent from the denial of certiorari.”