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California attorney general appeals ruling on death penalty system

(Reuters) - California's attorney general said on Thursday she is appealing a federal district court decision last month that found the state's death penalty system unconstitutional on the grounds it took so long it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Judge Cormac J. Carney of the U.S. Central District of California ruled in the case of Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was condemned to death in 1995, that to take "nearly a generation" to decide on Jones' appeals violated his rights.

Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement the decision threatened safeguards for the condemned, which include careful scrutiny during an often lengthy appeal process.

"I am appealing the court's decision because it is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants," Harris said. "This flawed ruling requires appellate review."

Legal experts said last month that Carney's July 16 ruling was limited in scope to the Jones case, and that it was unlikely to have an immediate impact on other cases because California has not executed anyone in years.

In a decision that marked a victory for opponents of capital punishment, the district judge wrote that the "dysfunctional" administration of the state's death penalty system had resulted in "an inordinate and unpredictable" period of delay.

Allowing it to continue to threaten Jones with the slight possibility of death, almost a generation after he was first sentenced, amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, he wrote.

Some 18 U.S. states have abolished the death penalty, while others including California and Oregon continue to have capital punishment on the books but have not executed anyone in recent years. Since 1978, more than 900 people have been sentenced to death in California, but only 13 have been killed.

(Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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