A federal judge in California ruled the state's death penalty "unconstitutional" Wednesday, saying massive delays have led to hundreds of inmates on death row without execution dates in the foreseeable future. (Via Getty Images)
The ruling stems from the case of Ernest Dewayne Jones, a man sentenced to death in 1995. Jones is one of 900 people since 1978 who have also been given the death penalty in California — but in that time only 13 have actually been executed.
U.S District Judge Cormac Carney wrote that many of the inmates sentenced won't be executed by the state, instead succumbing to illness or having their cases overturned. "As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality, they will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary." (Via U.S. District Court)
Numbers from the Death Penalty Information Center show California has the most inmates on death row at 742, but is behind 16 other states in the number of executions carried out since 1976. (Via Getty Images)
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty — Maryland was the most recent in 2013. So, does Wednesday's ruling mean California could be next?
It's hard to say, but California hasn't executed anyone since 2006 because of issues from lethal injections. Since then, KABC reports a new execution chamber has been built at California's San Quentin State Prison, but executions have remained suspended.
Outside of California, the percentage of Americans that support the death penalty is shrinking. A 2013 Pew Research study found that 55 percent of U.S. adults favor the death penalty for convicted murderers. That's down from 62 percent in a 2011 study.
And The Washington Post reports fewer and fewer executions have taken place in recent years, falling from 71 per year between 1997-2005 to about 44 per year between 2006 and 2013.
A ban on California's death penalty even made it to the ballots in 2012, with proponents saying it would save the state money. CNN reported back in 2012, "California taxpayers have spent $4 billion since 1978 on just 13 convicts," but voters ultimately rejected the referendum. (Via Getty Images)
A spokesperson for California's attorney general said the office is reviewing Judge Carney's decision, which can be appealed.