The Connecticut Supreme Court, refusing to overrule its earlier ruling in Santiago case, wherein it had held the death penalty unconstitutional, has upheld the state's ban on capital punishment. The top court of Connecticut reversed the two death sentences imposed upon Russel Peeler, and remanded the case and instructed the lower court to impose a sentence of life in prison without possibility of release.
In Santiago case, the Court had held that a state law banning executions for future sentences, but allowing them for past sentences is unconstitutional.
The majority opinion penned by Justice Palmer said “The defendant in Santiago has received the benefit of our decision therein, namely, that capital punishment is an excessive and disproportionate punishment, and that he no longer may be executed. The state now proposes that we reauthorize the death penalty 22 and proceed to execute the defendant, Peeler, solely on the basis of the fact that a different panel of this court, having considered essentially the same arguments only months later,might reach a different result. Nothing could be more arbitrary than to execute one convicted capital felon who committed his offense prior to the enactment of P.A. 12-5 but to spare another, solely on the basis of the timing of their appeals. For this reason as well, I reject the state’s request that we overrule Santiago and revive the death penalty in Connecticut.”
The Court further noted “Although it is undoubtedly true that the legislature is naturally responsive to powerful public sentiments, in the arena of criminal law as in other areas, that alone does not insulate a penal statute from constitutional scrutiny.”
Justice Espinosa, dissenting with the majority opinion said “In the present case, accordingly, the question is not whether the court should overrule Santiago because of a panel change. The question that the Chief Justice should be asking is whether stare decisis principles support the conclusion that a panel change prevents this court from being able to overrule a clearly wrong, recently decided case that constitutes an abrupt departure from well established precedent. And the clear answer to that question is no; stare decisis requires that the fabric of the law be restored by overruling the anomalous decision.”
Justice Zarella, joining in dissent, remarked “Just as it may be regrettable when the justices do not all agree, it may also be regrettable that our public appearance may temporarily be tarnished when we overrule a previous decision in short order. Far greater, and more important, than such regret, however, is our oath to uphold the constitution and our duty to objectively interpret that law. I am troubled by the suggestion that we must adhere to a decision, despite our belief that such a decision is unconstitutional, for no reason other than the appearance that we have changed our mind due to a change in court personnel. I cannot, in good conscience, join the court in such action. I believe the oath we take requires more of us. “
Read the Judgment here.