Location:
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT;
Scope:
Connecticut laws/regulations; Background;

OLR Research Report


November 29, 2010

 

2010-R-0498

DEATH PENALTY BILLS DEBATED SINCE 1973

By: Christopher Reinhart, Chief Attorney

You asked for a brief summary of death penalty bills and amendments debated by the legislature since 1973.

We identified death penalty bills by searching electronically (all bills since 1988) and through the Legislative Record Index for bills not available electronically. In this report, we include:

1. death penalty bills reported by a committee and

2. death penalty amendments debated by the legislature on non-death penalty bills.

For the death penalty bills, we summarize the last version of the bill debated, rather than each draft and amendment, and show the final committee and chamber votes taken on the bill. This means that bills favorably reported by a committee (with or without substitute language) and amended by either or both chambers are summarized as amended bills only. This is significant because an earlier version of a bill may have had a bigger impact on the death penalty than a later version. For amendments to non-death penalty bills, we describe the death penalty amendment, the vote on that amendment, and subsequent votes on the bill. With a few exceptions, information on amendments is limited to those since 1988 because earlier amendments are not available electronically. In some instances, we do not have committee votes on older bills because they are not readily available.

Table 1 organizes these bills and amendments by year, summarizes them, and shows committee and chamber votes.

Table 1: Death Penalty Bills and Amendments Since 1973

Bill Number

Death Penalty Provision

Votes and Status

2009

HB 6578

Renames the crime of capital felony as murder with special circumstances, eliminates the death penalty as a sentencing option for crimes committed starting on the bill's effective date, and makes the penalty for this new crime life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

Judiciary Committee vote 24-13

House vote 90-56

Senate vote 19-17

PA 09-107 (vetoed)

January 2008 Special Session

House Amendment “D” (LCO 10100) to SB 1700

Repeals the death penalty by (1) converting all existing death sentences to life without possibility of release and (2) replacing the crime of capital felony with the crime of murder with special circumstances punishable only by life without possibility of release without an option of imposing a death sentence.

House vote on amendment failed 49- 89

2007

HB 7365

Requires the court in a death penalty sentencing hearing to sentence the defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of release if the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict.

Judiciary Committee vote 30-8

Died on House calendar

House Amendment “D” (LCO 9039) to SB 938

Expands the crime of capital felony by adding offenses that include an element of using or attempting or threatening to use physical force against someone when the offender uses a stolen firearm.

House vote on amendment failed 11-138

2005

SB 895

Requires the court to sentence a defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of release if the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict within a reasonable time.

Requires the court to allow the defendant a reasonable opportunity to make a personal statement on his or her behalf to the jury, or court if there is no jury, without being sworn or subject to cross-examination. This must occur after the evidence is presented and before closing arguments in the penalty hearing.

Instead of authorizing the court to allow a victim impact statement to be read in court before imposing sentence on the defendant, requires the court to allow a representative of each deceased victim to have a reasonable opportunity to make a victim impact statement to the jury or the court if there is no jury. This must occur after the evidence is presented and before closing arguments in the penalty hearing.

Judiciary Committee vote 22-17

Died on Senate calendar

Table 1: -Continued-

Bill Number

Death Penalty Provision

Votes and Status

HB 6012

Renames the crime of capital felony as murder with special circumstances, eliminates the death penalty as a sentencing option, and makes the penalty for this new crime life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

Commutes the death sentence to life imprisonment without possibility of release for people sentenced to death.

Specifies that the sentence of life without the possibility of release is without the possibility of parole, sentence reduction, temporary leave, furlough, or any other kind of post-conviction conditional or absolute release.

Judiciary Committee vote 24-15

Appropriations Committee vote 28-21

House vote failed 60-89

2003

HB 6612

Adopts recommendations of the Commission on the Death Penalty to:

1. reduce the number of members of the Board of Pardons who must agree to commute a death sentence;

2. require the chief public defender, chief state's attorney, and chief court administrator to collect information about homicide cases that could be charged as capital felonies;

3. require a state's attorney to consult with the chief state's attorney and the other state's attorneys before deciding whether to seek a death sentence in a penalty hearing;

4. require the Office of the Chief Public Defender and the Office of the Chief State's Attorney to establish annual training programs regarding capital felony charges;

5. require the Office of the Chief State's Attorney to consult with the Police Officer Standards and Training Council and the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association to adopt guidelines for best practices for eyewitness identification procedures;

6. require a prosecutor in a capital felony prosecution to timely disclose, to the defendant and court before the trial starts, his or her intent to introduce evidence of the defendant's incriminating statements to an informant who was incarcerated or otherwise detained at the same time as the defendant (unless the defendant waives it, the bill requires the court to hold a hearing to decide whether the testimony is reliable); and

7. require the victim impact statement prepared by a victim advocate and placed in court files to be read during the sentencing hearing.

Judiciary Committee vote 23-14

Died on House calendar

2001

SB 1161

Adds the murder of certain people, including a law enforcement officer, as an aggravating factor in capital felony cases.

Prohibits imposing a death sentence on a defendant with mental retardation.

Creates a Commission on the Death Penalty to study the imposition of the death penalty in Connecticut.

Changes the scope of the capital felony statute by (1) including murder of a conservation or special conservation officer acting within the scope of duty and (2) eliminating the illegal sale of cocaine, heroin, or methadone for financial gain to a person who dies as a direct result of using the drug.

Judiciary Committee vote 30-8

Senate vote 21-15

House voted a different version, 105-40

Senate vote 22-13

PA 01-151

Table 1: -Continued-

Bill Number

Death Penalty Provision

Votes and Status

2000

SB 462

Creates the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparity which must, among other duties, examine the implementation of policies and procedures consistent with the American Bar Association's (ABA) policies to ensure that death penalty cases are administered fairly, impartially, and in accordance with due process to (1) minimize the risk of executing innocent people and (2) eliminate discrimination in capital sentencing based on the victim's or defendant's race.

Judiciary Committee (added provision to Public Safety bill), vote 40-0

Senate vote 35-0

House vote 147-0

PA 00-154

HB 5785

Among other things, permits a victim impact statement to be read in court at the sentencing hearing of a defendant found guilty of a capital felony.

Judiciary Committee vote 37-0

Appropriations Committee vote 36-3

Planning and Development Committee vote 17-0

Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee vote 37-7

House vote 138-10

Senate voted a different version, 36-0

Returned to House, vote 141-2

PA 00-200

1999

House Amendment “A” (LCO 9552) to HB 5111

Creates the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparity in the Criminal Justice System which must, among other duties, examine the implementation of policies and procedures consistent with ABA policies to ensure that death penalty cases are administered fairly, impartially, and in accordance with due process to (1) minimize the risk of executing innocent people and (2) eliminate discrimination in capital sentencing based on the race of the victim or defendant.

House vote on the amendment, 127-11

House vote, 100-38

Died on Senate calendar

HB 6627

Makes it a capital felony to murder a conservation officer acting within the scope of duty.

Environment Committee vote 19-2

Died in Judiciary Committee

Table 1: -Continued-

Bill Number

Death Penalty Provision

Votes and Status

1998

SB 238

Among other things, makes it a capital felony to murder a conservation officer acting within the scope of duty.

Environment Committee vote 21-1

Died in Judiciary Committee

HB 5698

Makes it a capital felony for an inmate to murder any Department of Correction (DOC) employee or someone providing services on behalf of DOC, not just an employee authorized to make arrests in a DOC facility. The employee or person must have been acting within the scope of duty or employment.

Judiciary Committee vote 36-1

House vote 117-26

Senate vote 28-8

PA 98-126

1997

HB 6334

Makes it a capital felony to murder a conservation officer acting within the scope of duty.

Environment Committee vote 15-5

Died in Public Safety Committee

HB 7054

Allows the DOC commissioner to appoint more than one person to administer lethal injection.

Removes some of the officials who may be present at an execution and allows the commissioner to determine the number of witnesses, based on security and space considerations.

Creates a committee, including news media representatives and the commissioner or his designee, to select the specific news media representatives who will witness a particular execution, but allows the commissioner to exclude media witnesses based on security considerations.

Judiciary Committee vote 41-0

Government Administration and Elections Committee

House vote 119-29

Senate vote 32-3

PA 97-184

1996

SB 700

Explicitly states that administering a lethal injection is not practicing medicine without a license and prohibits revoking the license of a medical professional who assists in preparing or administering the injection.

Alters the group of officials who must witness an execution and allows the DOC commissioner to limit the number of witnesses based on consideration of space or security.

Creates a committee of news media representatives to select reporters to be witnesses at executions and sets the number of reporter witnesses at between five and nine.

Requires DOC to adopt regulations governing administering a lethal injection.

Judiciary Committee vote 37-0

Senate vote 32-3

Government Administration and Elections Committee vote 19-0

Public Health Committee vote 20-0

Died on House calendar

Table 1: -Continued-

Bill Number

Death Penalty Provision

Votes and Status

1995

SB 670

Adds murder of a child under age 16 to the list of offenses classified as capital felonies.

Judiciary Committee vote 21-14

Senate removed the death penalty provision from the bill

SB 852

Requires a judge or jury considering whether the court should impose the death penalty to determine and state in a special verdict whether one or more aggravating factors outweigh one or more mitigating factors.

If the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors, the court sentences the defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of release. If the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating ones, the court sentences the defendant to death. Prior law did not provide for weighing the factors against each other. Previously, if the judge or jury found no aggravating factors or at least one mitigating factor, the court could not impose a death penalty.

Removes one of five automatic bars to the death penalty, that the defendant acted under unusual and substantial duress. Instead, it allows the judge or jury to determine if the defendant acted under unusual and substantial duress and if this duress should be considered a mitigating factor.

Judiciary Committee vote 20-14

Senate vote 28-7

House voted a different version, 87-59

Returned to the Senate, vote 28-8

PA 95-19

SB 855

Eliminates as a ground for the Connecticut Supreme Court to vacate a death sentence, that it is excessive or disproportionate compared to the penalty in similar cases.

Makes murder of a child under age 16 a capital felony.

Requires that execution be by intravenous injection rather than electrocution.

Judiciary Committee vote 21-12

Senate vote 26-8

House vote 92-55

PA 95-16

SB 960

Sets a deadline of 1 p.m. on the court day before a scheduled probable cause hearing for a defendant charged with a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment to waive the hearing. It appears that if the defendant does not meet the waiver deadline, the probable cause hearing is mandatory.

Judiciary Committee vote 37-0

Senate vote 35-0

Died on House calendar

HB 6945

Changes the method for selecting news media representatives to witness the execution of a person sentenced to the death penalty.

Sets the maximum number of representatives at nine and requires the DOC commissioner to choose the representatives based on the recommendations of a news media advisory committee.

Judiciary Committee vote 35-1

Died on House calendar

Table 1: -Continued-

Bill Number

Death Penalty Provision

Votes and Status

1994

HB 5460

Makes murder of any DOC employee in a facility, rather than only DOC officials with arrest authority, a capital felony.

Public Safety Committee vote 21-2

Died in Judiciary Committee

HB 5708

Requires a judge or jury considering whether to impose the death penalty to determine and state in a special verdict the “relative weight” of any aggravating and mitigating factors.

If the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors, the court sentences the defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of release. If the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors, the court sentences the defendant to death.

Removes one of five automatic bars to the death penalty, that the defendant acted under unusual and substantial duress. Instead, it allows the judge or jury to determine if the defendant acted under unusual and substantial duress, and if this duress should be considered a mitigating factor.

Changes the method of execution from electrocution to lethal injection. Requires the DOC commissioner to establish procedures for carrying out the punishment.

Judiciary Committee vote 21-10

House vote 94-52

Senate vote 25-11

PA 94-78 (vetoed)

HB 5709

Eliminates the Supreme Court's duty to review and vacate a death sentence that it finds excessive or disproportionate compared to the penalties imposed in similar cases, considering the circumstances of the crime and the defendant's character and record.

Judiciary Committee vote 17-13

House vote 90-58

Died on Senate calendar

Senate “A” on HB 7501

Requires a judge or jury considering whether the court should impose the death penalty to determine and state in a special verdict the “relative weight” of any aggravating and mitigating factors when the crime is certain types of capital felony committed with a firearm.

Senate vote on amendment failed 14-20

Senate “E” on SB 1001

Requires a judge or jury considering whether the court should impose the death penalty to determine and state in a special verdict the “relative weight” of any aggravating and mitigating factors when the crime is any capital felony committed with a firearm.

Senate vote on amendment failed 15-17

Table 1: -Continued-

Bill Number

Death Penalty Provision

Votes and Status

1993

HB 5445

Requires a judge or jury considering whether the court should impose the death penalty to determine and state in a special verdict the “relative weight” of any aggravating and mitigating factors. If the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors, the court sentences the defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of release. If the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating ones, the court sentences the defendant to death.

Removes one of five automatic bars to the death penalty, that the defendant acted under unusual and substantial duress. Instead, it allows the judge or jury to determine if the defendant acted under unusual and substantial duress, and if this duress should be considered a mitigating factor.

Changes the method of execution from electrocution to lethal injection. Requires the DOC commissioner to establish procedures for carrying out the punishment.

Judiciary Committee vote 18-11

House vote 88-57

Senate vote 24-12

PA 93-27 (vetoed)

House Amendments “I” (LCO 8506) and “Q” to HB 7332

As part of a larger assault weapons bill, House Amendment “I” adds the use of an assault weapon in a crime punishable by death to the list of aggravating circumstances justifying a death sentence.

House Amendment “Q” requires a judge or jury considering whether the court should impose the death penalty to determine and state in its verdict the “relative weight” of any aggravating factors and mitigating factors. It also adds committing the offense with an assault weapon as an aggravating factor.

House vote on House “I”, 80-63

House vote on House “Q” failed 59-86

House vote on bill as amended 83-63

Senate vote 18-18 (chair voted in favor to pass the bill)

PA 93-306

Senate Amendment “H” to SB 988

Expands capital felony to include murder with an assault weapon.

Senate vote on amendment failed 13-23

1992

House Amendment “D” on HB 6006

Requires a judge or jury considering whether the court should impose the death penalty to determine and state in its verdict the “relative weight” of any aggravating factors and mitigating factors.

House vote on amendment 66-59

House vote on bill as amended 74-50

Senate vote on amendment 21-13

Senate vote on different version 24-10

House re-vote on its original version, 95-12

Differing versions resolved in conference committee without this death penalty provision

Table 1: -Continued-

Bill Number

Death Penalty Provision

Votes and Status

1991

HB 5203

Requires a judge or jury considering whether the court should impose the death penalty to determine and state in its verdict the “relative weight” of any aggravating factors and mitigating factors. If the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors, the court sentences the defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of release. If the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors the court sentences the defendant to death.

Removes one of five automatic bars to the death penalty, that the defendant acted under unusual and substantial duress. Instead, it allows the judge or jury to determine if the defendant acted under unusual and substantial duress, and if this duress should be considered a mitigating factor.

Judiciary Committee vote 15-14

House vote 91-54

Senate vote 23-13

PA 91-259 (vetoed)

House vote to override veto failed 89-55 (101 votes needed)

1990

House Amendment “A” and Senate Amendment “A” to HB 5542

House “A” requires a judge or jury considering whether the court should impose the death penalty to determine and state in its verdict the “relative weight” of any aggravating factors and mitigating factors. If the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors, the court sentences the defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of release. If the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors the court sentences the defendant to death.

Eliminates the state's ability to stipulate to the existence of mitigating factors.

Retains two factors that preclude the death penalty and are not weighed against other factors: (1) if the defendant was a minor when he or she committed the crime or (2) if his or her mental capacity was significantly impaired at the time of the crime. And it creates a new mitigating factor that must be weighed against the aggravating factors: if at the time of the crime the defendant's mental capacity was impaired or his or her ability to conform his or her conduct to the requirement of law was impaired. Under current law the defendant must have been “significantly” impaired.

Senate “A” requires the jury to determine the “relative weight” of aggravating and mitigating factors for certain types of capital felonies, makes a conforming change to when the state can stipulate to mitigating factors to eliminates the need for a penalty hearing, and prohibits imposing the death penalty if the defendant was under age 18 at the time of the offense rather than considering it a mitigating factor.

House vote on House “A,” 89-51

House vote on bill as amended 89-48

Senate rejected House “A” 16-20, adopted Senate “A” by voice vote, recommitted the bill, and a vote to reconsider failed (the bill died)

House “D” on HB 5685

Expands capital felony to include murder with an assault weapon

House vote on amendment failed 53-87

Table 1: -Continued-

Bill Number

Death Penalty Provision

Votes and Status

1989

HB 7067

Requires a judge or jury considering whether the court should impose the death penalty to determine and state in its verdict the “relative weight” of any aggravating and mitigating factors. If the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors, the court sentences the defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of release. If the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors the court sentences the defendant to death.

Retains two factors that preclude the death penalty and are not weighed against other factors: (1) if the defendant was a minor when he or she committed the crime or (2) if his or her mental capacity was significantly impaired at the time of the crime. And it creates a new mitigating factor that must be weighed against the aggravating factors: if at the time of the crime the defendant's mental capacity was impaired or his or her ability to conform to the requirement of law was impaired. Under current law the defendant must have been “significantly” impaired.

Judiciary Committee, bill petitioned out of committee

House vote 93-57

Senate rejected 16-20

1987

SB 1195

Among other things, requires a probable cause hearing for those charged with a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment who were not indicted by a grand jury before May 26, 1983.

Judiciary Committee

Senate vote 34-0

House vote 130-0

PA 87-260

HB 7526

Requires a judge or jury considering whether the court should impose the death penalty to determine and state in its verdict the “relative weight” of any aggravating and mitigating factors. If the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors, the court sentences the defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of release. If the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors the court sentences the defendant to death.

Expands the applicability of the death penalty by allowing the execution of a person who was a minor at the time he or she committed the offense, by removing this as a factor creating an absolute bar to execution. Instead, minority at the time of the crime is to be considered a mitigating factor and weighed against aggravating factors.

Limits imposition of the death penalty to those whose mental capacity is not significantly impaired.

Makes it a mitigating factor if at the time of the crime the defendant's mental capacity was impaired or his or her ability to conform to the requirement of law was impaired. Under current law the defendant must have been “significantly” impaired.

Judiciary Committee

House vote 83-63

Senate recommitted (bill died)

Table 1: -Continued-

Bill Number

Death Penalty Provision

Votes and Status

1986

SB 511

Requires the judge or jury considering whether to impose the death penalty to determine and state in its verdict the “relative weight” of any aggravating and mitigating factors. If the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors, the court sentences the defendant to life imprisonment without possibility of release. If the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors, the court sentences the defendant to death.

Judiciary Committee

Senate vote 26-8

House vote 103-48

PA 86-244 (vetoed)

Senate vote to override failed 21-11 (24 votes required)

1985

HB 5133

Defines a mitigating factor as one that is not enough to excuse the crime but that, in fairness and mercy, tends to reduce the degree of blame or to justify a sentence less than death.

Requires the judge or jury to go through a two-step process to determine whether a mitigating factor exists: (1) determining whether evidence establishes a factor concerning the nature and circumstances of the crime and the defendant's character, background, or history might be mitigating and (2) determining whether the factor is in fact mitigating.

Changes the definition of life imprisonment from a definite sentence of 60 years to imprisonment for natural life when the sentence is for a capital felony.

Judiciary Committee

House vote 115-29

Senate vote 33-3

PA 85-366

HB 5738

Allows a drug-dependent person who sells cocaine, heroine, or methodone for profit to someone who dies as a direct result of using the drug to be charged with a capital felony. Previously, only non-addicts who sold drugs in such circumstances were subject to these penalties.

Judiciary Committee

House vote 108-34

Senate vote 36-0

PA 85-144

1983

SB 13

Establishes procedures for probable cause hearing to determine whether an individual should be prosecuted for a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment, implementing a 1982 constitutional amendment.

Judiciary Committee

Senate vote 33-0

House voted a different version, 137-0

Returned to Senate, vote 36-0

PA 83-210

HB 5792

Makes it clear that existing law on death penalty hearings, passed in 1980, applies to people convicted of a capital felony after its effective date, even though they committed the crime before the law was passed.

Judiciary Committee

House vote 134-9

Senate vote 36-0

PA 83-327

Table 1: -Continued-

Bill Number

Death Penalty Provision

Votes and Status

1981

HJ 36

Resolution proposing a constitutional amendment to abolish the requirement that a grand jury find probable cause for crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment. Substitutes a court probable cause hearing with procedures established by statute.

Judiciary Committee

Government Administration and Elections Committee

House vote 121-10

Senate vote 35-0

1980

SB 247

Expands the crime of capital felony to include (1) murder in the course of committing 1st degree sexual assault and (2) murder of two or more people at the same time or in the course of a single incident.

Judiciary Committee

Senate vote 29-5

House vote 83-53

PA 80-335

HB 5058

Prohibits the death penalty if any mitigating factor exists that concerns the defendant's character, background and history, or nature and circumstances of the crime. Previously, the death penalty could not be imposed if one of five mitigating factors was present.

Requires any death sentence be reviewed by the Connecticut Supreme Court to either affirm the death sentence or remand the case to impose a class A felony sentence.

Judiciary Committee

House vote 114-29

Senate vote 30-4

PA 80-332

1979

Senate Amendment “A” and House Amendment “A” to SB 158

Senate Amendment “A” makes death caused by arson a capital felony regardless of intent.

House Amendment “C” repeals the death penalty.

Senate adopted Senate “A” on a voice vote and passed the bill with the amendment 24-9

House rejected Senate “A” 65-79, rejected House “C” 44-99

The bill later became law without any death penalty provisions (PA 79-570).

1977

SB 1351

Changes media representation at electrocutions and requires the commissioner of finance and control with the warden at the Somers prison to set the executioner's compensation.

Humane Institutions Committee

Senate vote 34-0

House recommitted (bill died)

HB 5713

Makes the murder of more than one person in a single incident or in the immediate flight from that incident a capital felony.

Judiciary Committee

House recommitted (bill died)

Table 1: -Continued-

Bill Number

Death Penalty Provision

Votes and Status

1976

HB 5120

Requires the finance and control commissioner to approve compensation paid a person appointed to inflict the death penalty.

Changes who can witness an execution.

Humane Institutions Committee

House recommitted (bill died)

1974

HB 5618

Allows women to be designated by a prisoner facing execution as one or more of the three allowable witnesses to the execution.

Human Rights and Opportunities Committee

House voted on the consent calendar (no vote recorded in the journal)

Senate voted on the consent calendar (no vote recorded in the journal)

PA 74-84

1973

HB 2467

Implements a constitutional amendment on jurors, including prohibiting a jury trial for capital offenses with less than 12 jurors unless the defendant consents.

Judiciary Committee

Appropriations Committee

Senate voted on the consent calendar (no vote recorded in the journal)

House vote 128-0

PA 73-576

HB 8297

Enumerates six capital offenses and provides a two step procedure for imposing the death penalty. Guilt is first determined and if found guilty, a person is given a separate hearing to establish aggravating or mitigating circumstances. Punishment for a capital felony (1) with mitigating circumstances is life imprisonment and (2) without mitigating circumstances and with aggravating circumstances is the death sentence.

Judiciary Committee

House vote 83-49

Senate vote 19-17

PA 73-137

CR:ts