California's death penalty system is so broken it is unconstitutional, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled Wednesday.
In his decision, Carney cited two decades of execution delays and appeals that created what he called "an arbitrary and irrational system."
The judge said the system violates the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Carney's ruling overturns the case of a death row inmate at San Quentin State Prison who filed the lawsuit.
Opponents of Carney's decision quickly reacted to the ruling.
Martin Halloran, president of the Police Officers Association, questioned whether "the judge was concerned about the victim and the victim's family who are going through this nightmare all over again."
"The people of this state have spoken time and time again on this issue. And I believe the people's voice should be heard," Halloran told reporters.
California's death penalty was first struck down in 1972, but voters quickly reversed that ruling in a ballot initiative.
Law enforcements officers worry Wednesday's decision will only encourage other prisoners to file expensive, frivolous lawsuits.
But Matt Cherry, a member of Death Penalty Focus, a group that has fought executions in the state, supports the judge's ruling.
"We have 747 people alone on death row, but there have been no executions for the past eight years," Cherry noted to reporters.
"In fact," he added, "since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s, there have been only 13 executions in California."