The Top Legal Stories Of 2015

The year 2015 anno Domini (or of the Common Era for new atheists out there) was chock full of big legal stories in Connecticut. I enjoyed covering them. According to my stats package, the following five stories are the ones readers found most interesting:

  1. State v. Santiago–The Connecticut Death Penalty Repeal Case. In 2012, the Connecticut General Assembly enacted a law that repealed the death penalty prospectively, but left it in place for the 11 men already on death row, including the two men responsible for the brutal murders of Dr. William Petit’s wife and children in 2007. However, in August 2014, the state Supreme Court decided State v. Santiago, which held that the 2012 law had the unintended effect of making the death penalty unconstitutional for everyone on the ground that it now constituted “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the state constitution. The Santiago decision may not be the final word on the death penalty in Connecticut, however; the state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear argument on January 7, 2016 in another case, State v. Peeler, which could overturn the
    Santiago decision.
  2. In re: Cassandra C.  Senator Len Fasano wants Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz to resign based on DCF’s alleged failure to ensure the safety of some children under its supervision. But in 2015, Commissioner Katz saved the life of one adolescent, Cassandra C., who wanted to reject life-saving chemotherapy for her very treatable Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The case raised questions about whether minor children have a constitutional right to reject life-saving medical treatment, and asked the Connecticut Supreme Court to adopt the “mature minor” doctrine. The Supreme Court ultimately supported DCF’s efforts to compel Cassandra C. to undergo treatment, rather than effectively commit suicide. Her treatment has been successful and, hopefully, she will live a long and happy life.
  3. Lapointe v. Comm’r of Correction. On March 31, 2015, the Supreme Court  released four opinions (a majority, concurrence and two dissents) in the habeas case of Richard Lapointe, who was convicted of raping and murdering his mother-in-law in 1987 and then setting her apartment afire. The case had garnered considerable attention over the years based on questions about Lapointe’s mental competence and questionable confessions the police obtained from him after the murder. The Supreme Court concluded that Lapointe had been deprived of constitutionally adequate assistance of counsel and was entitled to a new trial. (Last October the state decided not to retry him.) Some of the opinions in the case were notable for their uncivil tone and accusations that the justices in the majority had abandoned their role as impartial arbiters and improperly assumed the role of advocates for Mr. Lapointe.
  4. Senator Maynard and the Oath. In the summer of 2015, State Senator Andrew Maynard (D-Stonington) suffered serious head injuries resulting from a fall. Despite his injuries, Sen. Maynard appeared on the ballot in November 2014 and was reelected. However, significant legal questions were raised about whether he would be able to take the oath of office and actually fulfill his constitutional responsibilities. In January 2015, Sen. Maynard surprised many folks by appearing in the Senate Chambers at the state capitol and taking the oath of office.
  5. Connecticut v. Indiana and Religious Freedom.  Last March, the State of Indiana enacted a law that many perceived to sanction discrimination, based on religious beliefs, against persons who identified as LGBTQ. Governor Malloy called out Indiana Governor Mike Pence for supporting the new law, and also issued a ban on state-funded travel to Indiana. Governor Pence responded that Connecticut had a similar law and that Governor Malloy was the hypocritical pot calling the kettle black. The story led to an important discussion about so-called Religious Freedom Restorations Acts or “RFRAs.”  (As I explained in my post, Connecticut’s RFRA does not, and was never intended to, discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community.)

Thanks for following Appealingly Brief! this year.  I look forward to covering more interesting legal stories in 2016!

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