Supreme Court To Rehear Arguments In Death Penalty CasePosted: December 1, 2015
The Connecticut Supreme Court announced today that it will hear additional oral arguments on January 7, 2016 (10:00 a.m.) concerning the constitutionality of the death penalty. In particular, it will decide whether to reaffirm, or overrule, its decision last summer abolishing the death penalty.
Last August, a divided state Supreme Court held in State v. Santiago that a law passed in 2012, which repealed the death penalty prospectively, had the unintended effect of rendering the death penalty unconstitutional for the 11 men already on death row, including the two men responsible for the 2007 Cheshire murders of Dr. William Petit’s wife and two daughters. However, another death penalty case which is still pending–State v. Peeler–has the potential to overrule the Santiago decision. The Supreme Court previously granted the Chief State Attorney’s motion for permission to submit supplemental briefs in Peeler, which explain why his office believes Santiago was wrongly decided and should be overruled.
As I have explained in prior posts, one of the justices who was part of the majority in Santiago–Justice Flemming L. Norcott, Jr.–has retired. Justice Richard Robinson, who was appointed to take Justice Norcott’s seat on the high court, will sit on the seven-judge panel that hears the arguments next January in Peeler. Because the remaining six judges on the court split 3-3 in Santiago, and assuming that those six justices vote as they did in Santiago, Justice Robinson’s vote could determine whether the death penalty remains dead or is, instead, revived.
UPDATE: Noted appellate advocate Wes Horton has a thoughtful post on his firm’s blog discussing his misgivings about the statute that allowed Justice Norcott to continue to sit on the Santiago case after he turned 70 (the mandatory retirement age for judges under the Connecticut Constitution). The post helps readers understand how the Supreme Court finds itself in the uncomfortable situation it is in now.