Thursday, April 12, 2012

Connecticut legislature votes to abolish the death penalty

The elected representatives of the State of Connecticut have voted to repeal the state's death penalty. Governor Daniel P. Malloy has already announced that he intends to sign the bill into law. As part of the compromise, however, the eleven men remaining on death row will still be subject to execution.

Connecticut becomes the fifth state in the last five years to decide that it makes no sense for the state to be in the murder business. Connecticut joins Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey and New York in repealing the death penalty.

As Jeff Gamso so eloquently points out, though, the new law will mandate that the most severe sentence that can be imposed is death in prison (life without parole). The law also says that inmates serving life without parole will be segregated from the general population and only allowed outside their cells for two hours a day.

Republicans, who voted against the measure, criticized the provision allowing for the execution of the eleven men on death row. Lawmakers said the measure was hypocritical and could allow for the appellate courts to overturn the death sentences. As to the first point - I'd like to see a show of hands of which Republicans would've voted for the bill had it abolished the death penalty outright and commuted the existing death sentences to life without parole.

Still waiting, boys...

As to the second point - I hope that an appellate court would look to the newly signed statute and either remand the case for sentencing or commute the death sentence to life without parole. I agree that abolishing the death penalty but still allowing the state to murder eleven additional men is hypocritical and undercuts the moral authority for abolishing the death penalty.

I'm also aware of the cost of doing business in a legislative body. The objective of the bill was to get the state out of the killing business. The reality was that there were not enough votes to pass the bill unless there was a provision exempting the eleven men currently on death row.

Step by step and state by state the death penalty is losing its support. At some point we may reach a tipping point where enough states have abolished the death penalty on various grounds that appellate courts may look to the general mood when determining whether a particular state's process for killing an inmate meets constitutional muster.

Meanwhile we can only wait.

See also:

"Nevermore in my name: CT abolishes the death penalty," A Public Defender (Apr. 11, 2012)

"Connecticut bill to repeal death penalty to become law with Governor's signature," Sentencing Law and Policy (Apr. 12, 2012)

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