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California's attorney general files papers defending constitutionality of state death penalty

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SAN FRANCISCO — California's attorney general filed court papers Monday defending the constitutionality of the state's death penalty.

Attorney General Kamala Harris urged the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court decision invalidating the penalty.

In July, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney tossed out the death sentence of Ernest Jones, a Los Angeles man convicted in 1995 of raping and murdering his girlfriend's mother two years earlier.

Carney said it takes too long to carry out executions in California and that capital punishment is arbitrarily applied in the state.

Jones appealed to the federal courts after the California Supreme Court upheld his death penalty.

Since the current death penalty system was adopted 35 years ago, more than 900 people have been sentenced to death but only 13 have been executed.

"California's system for carefully reviewing capital convictions and sentences" takes time, Harris wrote. "It might be hastened if the state had no resource constraints, or less interest in ensuring the accuracy and legality of its judgments in capital cases."

The judge's ruling had little effect on the current state of California's death penalty. A federal judge put executions on hold in 2006 after finding California's lethal injection procedures were severely flawed and ordered an overhaul.

Since then, a new death chamber has been constructed and new regulations drafted on how to carry out lethal injections.

The state has yet to present the updates to the judge because a state judge ruled that the new regulations have been improperly drafted.

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