Supreme Court Rejects Challenge To Death Penalty


The U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed a review of a case brought by California death-row inmate Richard Boyer, who has been waiting for execution for 32 years. Justice Stephen Breyer penned the dissenting opinion.

On May 2, the Supreme Court ruled to deny reviewing the constitutionality of prolonged death sentences. Boyer's case had been tried three separate times for double homicide, and Boyer had been seeking certiorari, Courthouse News reports.

Boyer, now 58, was convicted of slaying Aileen and Francis Harbitz in their home in Fullerton, California, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Under the influence of both PCP and cocaine, Boyer broke into the Harbitz home and stole $50. During the altercation, Boyer stabbed the couple to death. He had known the husband and wife through their son.

“It’s difficult for the court to imagine a more heinous type of crime,” said Santa Ana Superior Court Judge Donald A. McCartin during a third trial held in 1992. The judge added that Boyer’s crime was all the more disturbing because of his relationship with the deceased.

“They lent you money,” McCartin told Boyer in court. “You took advantage of this friendship. They were elderly, vulnerable.”

The Supreme Court had denied Boyer an appeal in 2006, but in this case the death row inmate’s defense asserted that the prolonged period spent on death row violated his Eighth Amendment rights, the agonizing wait for execution constituting cruel and unusual punishment.

Boyer’s appeal for certiorari was denied, but Justice Breyer criticized the California justice system in his dissenting opinion, writing that this case was evidence of a dysfunctional institution.

Breyer cited that many of California’s death row inmates died from natural causes or suicide instead of execution, concluding, “Indeed, only a small, apparently random set of death row inmates had been executed.”

The Justice added that California’s death penalty system was not cost effective, citing a commission which found that the state was spending 10 times more on death row inmates than if they had just opted for life imprisonment without parole.

“Put simply, California’s costly ‘administration of the death penalty’ likely embodies three fundamental defects about which I have previously written,” Breyer wrote, The Hill reports.

The justice listed the defects as “‘1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose.’ For these reasons, I respectfully dissent from the denial of certiorari.”

Sources: Court House NewsThe Hill, Los Angeles Times / Photo credit: Abir Anwar/Flickr

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