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.
In recent weeks, lawyers, the legal press in Connecticut, and this blog, have been discussing the possibility that a pending death penalty case in the Connecticut Supreme Court, State v. Peeler, could overrule the court’s recent decision in State v. Santiago. Santiago held that a statute passed in 2012, which expressly repealed the death penalty prospectively, had the unintended effect of rendering capital punishment unconstitutional under the state constitution for the 11 men already on death row. More accurately, the discussion has focused on whether the Supreme Court should use the Peeler case to overrule Santiago.
When the Connecticut Supreme Court issued its recent 4-3 decision in State v. Santiago striking down the death penalty in Connecticut, most people thought that was the end of the story–whether they agreed with the decision or not.
I’m not so sure.
will may be my last post concerning the Connecticut Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision last week in State v. Santiago abolishing the death penalty entirely. As a death penalty opponent, I should be pleased with the result. As a lawyer who cares deeply about the rule of law, I have very serious doubts about the reasoning behind the majority’s decision.
Appellate judges are famous for asking hypothetical questions. They are a very important part of the oral argument process, as they help the judges understand how their decisions in particular cases may apply to future cases.
Advocates rarely get to ask judges hypothetical questions, but I’m going to ask one anyway. It is directed to the esteemed justices of the Connecticut Supreme Court who last week, in a 4-3 decision, abolished the death penalty. (I don’t expect an answer of course. This is just a thought experiment.) The Supreme Court held that a statute the General Assembly passed in 2012, which repealed the death penalty prospectively only–an essential element of the legislative compromise required to get the votes to support any repeal–had the unintended effect of rendering the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment, and thus violative of the Connecticut Constitution, for the 11 men already on death row. That is, according to the Supreme Court, the repeal statute accomplished precisely what it was not intended to do–abolish the death penalty entirely.
The Connecticut General Assembly recently abolished the death penalty, albeit on a prospective basis only. The Connecticut Supreme Court will soon hear arguments on the constitutionality of executing individuals convicted of capital crimes before the death penalty was repealed. While researching this issue, I came across a wonderful site that has archived early Connecticut laws. Read the rest of this entry »