Thursday, April 12, 2012

Connecticut abolishes death penalty

The state of Connecticut is set to become the 17th in the nation to abolish its death penalty, replacing it with a penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of release for certain murders. Connecticut's House of Representatives passed the measure last night by an 86-63 vote after its senate had passed it last week. (See Senate Bill 280)

As is the case in many of the remaining death penalty states, capital punishment existed in Connecticut since colonial times, but, as a CNN article this morning relates, was forced to review its laws invoking the death penalty beginning in 1972, when the Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia required greater consistency in its application and a moratorium was imposed until Gregg v. Georgia in 1976 upheld the constitutionality of capital punishment."Since then," CNN reported, "Connecticut juries have handed down 15 death sentences, of which only one person has actually been executed. Michael Ross, a convicted serial killer, was put to death by lethal injection in 2005 after he voluntarily gave up his appeals."

Connecticut has 11 people on death row. The bill, however, is prospective in nature, meaning that it would not apply to those already sentenced to death.

New York Times coverage adds that Gov. Dannel Malloy's signature on the bill will leave New Hampshire and Pennsylvania as the only states in the Northeast that still have the death penalty. New Jersey repealed it in 2007. New York's statute was ruled unconstitutional by the state's supreme court in 2004, and lawmakers have not moved to fix the law.

The Times also notes "Republican critics of the bill said the exemption for those currently awaiting execution cast a cloud over the vote, both because it undercut the moral argument of death penalty opponents and because future appeals or government action had the potential to spare the 11 men….. But Democratic legislators — swayed by at least 138 cases nationally in which people sentenced to death were later exonerated and by arguments that the death penalty is imposed in a capricious, discriminatory manner and is not a deterrent to crime — voted for repeal. They noted that a repeal in New Mexico in 2009 that also exempted those already on death row had thus far withstood challenges.

As we reported earlier, here in Ohio, U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost's denying the motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction staying the execution of Mark Wiles next week effectually ended this state's unofficial death penalty moratorium that dates back to November, but its supreme court task force charged with examining the state's procedures has last reported that it could take at least two years to complete its study.

The University of Pittsburgh Law School's Jurist has more.

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