Connecticut Supreme Court abolishes death penalty

The Connecticut State Supreme Court has upheld the abolishment of the death penalty, including for death-row inmates in the re-examination of the case of State v. Santiago.  Last August, the Court held that the death penalty was unconstitutional following the legislature’s abolition of capital punishment three years ago. The legislature made the law to apply only to new cases and kept in place the death sentences that were already imposed on those facing execution. This law left 11 men on death row to await execution. Attorneys for the inmates on death row challenged the law, saying that it violated the inmates’ constitutional rights. The justices in the majority wrote that executing an inmate “would violate the state constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment” and that the death penalty “no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency.” The majority essentially said that it would be unfair to execute the remaining death row inmates when lawmakers had determined that the death penalty was no longer needed for future convicts. Inmates on death row will now be resentenced to life without parole.

The constitution of Connecticut prohibits cruel and unusual punishments under, as held in the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution. The death penalty is categorically excessive and disproportionate when imposed on certain classes of offenders. Further, the death penalty is subject to random and arbitrary imposition due to biases and discrimination. The defendant’s life is left in the hand’s of the jury that has virtually unquestionable discretion whether to sentence him to death if convicted.

The United States is the only Western Country still applying the death penalty. There are currently still 30 states that uphold the death penalty as a sentencing option, as well as the federal government. Of these states, seven have put executions on hiatus without an official end to the death penalty. However, more and more restrictions are being put in place as time goes by. The death penalty may only be used if the defendant is convicted of or pleads guilty to a capital offense. The death penalty has been ruled to be unconstitutional for minors and those with intellectual disabilities.

Capital punishment is a controversial issue, but as more states prohibit it, it becomes apparent that there is a slow trend towards disfavor. Over 150 prisoners have been acquitted since 1973, showing how easy it is for a defendant to be wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. There is a moral opposition to the death penalty on the grounds that innocent people will inevitably be executed. There is an arbitrariness present due to biases of race, gender, socio-economic status, and other factors. Deterrence has been the main argument for keeping the death penalty in place, but it has been virtually impossible to prove if there has been a significant deterrent effect on capital crime.

Find out about important Supreme Judicial Court decisions in our home state of Massachusetts on my blog.

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