Aug 14, 2015

Last vestiges of death penalty in Connecticut are cruel and unusual, state’s top court says

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Connecticut last executed a prisoner in 2005 and abolished the death penalty as a sentencing option in 2012.

But roughly a dozen inmates remained on Connecticut’s death row because they had committed capital crimes before the death penalty was abolished.

That changed Thursday, when the state’s top court held the death penalty to be unconstitutional in a 4-3 decision, according to the Associated Press, Reuters and the Washington Post (reg. req.).

The remaining 11 inmates on death row are expected to spend the rest of their lives behind bars, reports the New York Times (reg. req.).

“We are persuaded that, following its prospective abolition, this state’s death penalty no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency and no longer serves any legitimate penological purpose,” the state supreme court majority said in its Thursday written opinion (PDF). It was authored by Associate Justice Richard Palmer.

“For these reasons, execution of those offenders who committed capital felonies prior to April 25, 2012, would violate the state constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”

However, the dissent said the court’s decision contravenes the will of state lawmakers:

“In making this determination, the majority disregards the obvious: The legislature, which represents the people of the state and is the best indicator of contemporary societal mores, expressly retained the death penalty” when it was imposed for crimes committed before the death penalty was repealed, wrote Chief Justice Chase Rogers in one of three dissenting opinions (PDF).

A total of 31 states still allow capital punishment.

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