Death Penalty unconstitutional, indecent and serves no Penological purpose : Connecticut Supreme Court

Death Penalty unconstitutional, indecent and serves no Penological purpose : Connecticut Supreme Court

Connecticut Supreme Court has, in a recent judgment Santiago vs. State, ruled that Death Penalty is unconstitutional  as it is “out of step with our contemporary standards of decency”.  The Supreme Court upheld the conviction of the Defendant, but reversed the sentence of death on the capital felony count, holding that the enactment of P.A. 12-5, when considered in light of the history of the death penalty in the state and other recent legal developments, compels the conclusion that capital punishment constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the constitution of Connecticut. This decision comes three years after Connecticut abolished capital punishment while leaving death sentences intact for inmates already on death row. Seven Judges bench of Supreme Court, (3 dissenting) agreed and reversed Defendant’s sentence of death on the capital felony count, holding that the enactment of P.A. 12-5, when considered in light of the history of the death penalty in the state and other recent legal developments, compels the conclusion that capital punishment, as currently applied, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the constitution of Connecticut. The defendant was then sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

Defendant in this case, was found guilty of capital felony and sentenced to death. While Defendant’s appeal was pending, the legislature passed Public Act 12-5, which repealed the death penalty for all crimes committed on or after April 25, 2012. The case summary as published in the Connecticut SC web portal is reproduced for the sake of understanding the back ground “On June 12, 2012, the Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s judgment of conviction but reversed his death sentence and remanded for a new penalty phase hearing, concluding that the trial court improperly had failed to disclose to Defendant certain confidential records that were mitigating in nature. Defendant filed a motion for reconsideration, claiming that the adoption of P.A. 12-5 leads to the conclusion that capital punishment has ceased to comport with state constitutional requirements.”

Legislative intent

The court, commenting about the Public Act. 12-5, said “the vast majority of those legislators who voted for P.A. 12-5 would have supported a full repeal but were forced at that time to accept half a loaf because there were not enough votes to pass a full repeal” It also observed “The only plausible reading of the legislative history, then, is that the legislature made a principled determination that capital punishment should no longer be the policy of Connecticut.”. The court concludes that “best evidence of legislative intent available to us strongly suggests that both of the elected branches were motivated in no small part by a principled belief that state sanctioned executions are no longer a necessary or appropriate form of punishment, even for the most heinous crimes” The court also added “In prospectively abolishing the death penalty, the legislature did not simply express the will of the people that it no longer makes sense to maintain the costly and unsatisfying charade of a capital punishment scheme in which no one ever receives the ultimate punishment.” 

Serves no Penological goal 

The court held that death penalty no longer serves any legitimate penological goal and “it would not be constitutionally permissible to execute the defendant in the present case, and others similarly situated, without any legitimate penological purpose, merely to achieve the politically popular end of killing two especially notorious inmate”. It finds no deterrence in death penalty punishment, it quipped at the dissenting opinion “We very much doubt that the citizens of Connecticut, learning that the death penalty has been abolished, will somehow infer that they can now rape, pillage, and exceed the speed limits with impunity.” Holding that life imprisonment without the possibility of release is an adequate and sufficient penalty even for the most horrific of crimes, the court observes that “then we can express our moral outrage, mete out justice, bring some measure of solace to the families of the victims, and purge the blemish of murder on our community whilst the offender yet lives.” The court also said that death penalty has also ceased to be retributive due to interminable delays in carrying out capital sentences. The court capital punishment fails to satisfy the demands of retributive justice is the ever present danger of irreversible error, the court said. Highlighting the arbitrariness involved in awarding death penalty, the court opined “Selection of which offenders live and which offenders die appears to be inescapably tainted by caprice and bias.”