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April 9, 2012

What are odds any Connecticut death sentences get carried out after "prospective" repeal?

The question in the title is prompted by this effective local article exploring the likely fate of those arleady on Connecticut's death row in light of the state's seemingly likely repeal of its capital punishment statute.  The piece is headlined "Connecticut death penalty repeal may spare 11 on death row, despite legislature's intent, some say," and here are excerpts:

Now that Connecticut is on the verge of becoming the 17th state to reject the death penalty, the only question is what will happen to the 11 men currently on death row, in various stages of appeal.

The bill recently passed by the state Senate on a 20 to 16 vote applies the repeal prospectively, and the clear intent, as stated repeatedly in debate last week, is to continue to proceed with those 11 death sentences, but not for any individuals found guilty of similar crimes going forward.

Democratic supporters of repeal, including Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, who has lobbied for repeal for decades, say there are examples of the courts upholding prospective changes that will allow the death penalty revisions to stand.

Republican opponents who favor continuing with the infrequently used punishment counter that an appeal of the changes is a certainty and that the court will not allow the state to execute the 11 based on constitutional grounds....

It is generally conceded that the policy change was crafted prospectively in order to get enough state senators to agree to the legislation.  They wanted to be assured that the men on death row, particularly the two recently convicted and sentenced to death for their roles in the notorious murder of three members of the Petit family in Cheshire, will at some point be executed.

The bill could come up for a vote in the House as early as next week, where it is expected to pass, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has promised to sign it.  The harshest punishment in Connecticut for murder under special circumstances then would be life in prison with no possibility of release.

An amendment to the bill applies the treatment now afforded death row inmates to future felons sentenced to life in prison.  They would spend 22 hours a day in their cells, be segregated from the rest of the prison population, be subject to frequent searches and be allowed no physical contact with visitors....

Everyone, in explaining their positions, begins by saying that, ultimately, there is no certainty as to how a state Supreme Court challenge would come down, and the divergence of opinion on the issue extends beyond the legislature in Hartford.

William Dunlap, professor of law at Quinnipiac University, said he feels the revised policy, if adopted, can survive a challenge. Whether one thinks of it as bad policy is irrelevant and of no interest to the court, Dunlap said, and will not be the basis of a successful appeal.  But he did not think the public defenders who might bring the challenge would win with an equal protection case either.  Dunlap, who personally favors a complete abolition of the death penalty as many supporters of repeal do, said the decision was understandably a political one involving a compromise to maximize the number of votes for repeal.

Republicans who favor maintaining the death penalty put forth several legal arguments. State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said no state Supreme Court in the country has addressed the constitutionality of repealing the death penalty prospectively, including New Mexico, which is the only one to date who has repealed it for future crimes....

State Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, another strong supporter of the death penalty, said public defenders will argue under the 14th Amendment that the new policy represents “evolving social norms of human decency” and they will use this to get inmates off death row....

Local defense lawyer Hugh Keefe said the likelihood that the 11 on death row will ever be subjected to a lethal injection are almost nonexistent. “The chance of any of those guys being put to death is about as great as winning that $500 million lottery last weeek. It is just not going to happen,” Keefe said. “You can’t have the ultimate penalty depend on when you committed a crime. There is something inherently unconstitutional about that.”

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April 9, 2012 at 11:36 AM | Permalink


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Once again, Democrats showing capital murderers some love.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 9, 2012 11:52:24 AM

Slim to none chance any of them will be executed. I don't think any of the inmates have exhausted state remedies yet after 10 plus years.

Posted by: DaveP | Apr 9, 2012 12:18:33 PM

Does Ron Paul et. al. also show "capital murderers some love" when they oppose capital punishment or support more stricter limits on its application?

Posted by: Joe | Apr 9, 2012 1:02:42 PM

Yes, Joe, he does, along with getting his facts wrong. Why do you ask?

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Apr 9, 2012 1:29:48 PM

Zero, I'll be amazed if the pack of rapists, child and cop and contract killers stay on death row after any later than 2015.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Apr 9, 2012 5:39:19 PM

Kent, I'm not sure why you say "he" when I cited more than one person and do you mean in both cases? I ask because federalist keeps on making this about "Democrats," when they aren't the only supporters of one position here and the "love" part is also wrong if we actually seriously address what is being done here.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 9, 2012 6:40:46 PM

When CJ Roberts, e.g., concurred in a case involving teenage offenders respecting life term, was he giving "love" to the criminals there or deciding that this is what due process requires? Wrong or not, is a position of what due process required now some sort of issue about "love" and when the Supreme Court 7-2 in such and such a case uses the DPC to overturn a ruling, are they "giving love" to criminals there? Or, when someone, conservative or libertarian, think the government is being given too much power or someone is not being giving proper counsel, increasing the requirements for the state in a criminal case, are they "showing some love" or what? Overall, can be be serious here and stop this kneejerk partisan potshots? I speak purely rhetorically given past comments here.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 9, 2012 6:46:32 PM

Joe, you're whining. Putting aside the obvious difference between Roberts being a judge (who considers himself bound by the law) and legislators who make it, did you read the silliness spouted by these Dems to support the abolition of capital punishment? Face it--these people get some big time thrill over saving the lives of these horrible criminals. That's how they roll. Don't shoot the messenger.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 9, 2012 7:25:03 PM

Joe --

Ron Paul opposes capital punishment. FDR supported it (and used it).

I am normally Republican, but I'll cross party lines here to go with FDR. Which would you say has more moral clout?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 10, 2012 11:22:10 AM

federalist doesn't want to own up to continual emotional laden remarks.

Many people, not just "Democrats," who are split on the issue themselves (see Bill Otis), oppose the death penalty for various reasons. The reasons are not just that they "love" criminals, particularly in a state where the death penalty is basically never carried out anyways. Such reasoning, when voiced by legislatures, judges or advocates, is the issue here. Arguments on the merits are fine. Your continual emotional laden remarks about "loving" or "shame" etc. are less productive.

Attacking the messenger isn't going to change all of this.

I think both sides of the capital punishment divide can very well have "moral clout" but your cross-party openness is duly noted.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 10, 2012 11:58:57 AM

Lighten up, Joe. First of all, did you bother reading some of the truly dippy things these twit Democrats had to say? Words can't describe the moral preening . . . . I mean, really, sleepless nights and the "what kind of society we want to be"--ugh. This verbal masturbation and diarrhea of the mouth has only one explanation--these turkeys are really really excited about keeping murderers away from the business end of a needle. Their excitement jumps off the page.

Second, "showing some love" is a colloquialism. Once again, lighten up. However, the self-congratulatory statements in the debate (as if the moral question of executing cold-blooded killers is really all that deep) do show a certain pride in helping these guys out. You take their BS at face value--I don't.

No matter where you go, there always seems to be a bunch of Dems arguing that we should be nicer to criminals. Sometimes, they're right; most of the time, they're not.

And Joe, I've hammered GOP twits too. Kasich on one of his commutations was ridiculous, and I said so in here.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 10, 2012 3:39:15 PM

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