TO:   Members of the Judiciary Committee of the General Assembly
FROM:   Jo A. Roberts, Senior Attorney
DATE:   January 16, 2001
RE:   Recommendations of the Connecticut Law Revision Commission for Legislation re Statutory Oaths

 

In response to a letter to the Connecticut Law Revision Commission from the Honorable Douglas S. Lavine, dated August 8, 2000 (Attachment A to this report), the Commission voted at its September 19, 2000 meeting to undertake a study of the oaths administered in civil and criminal cases. A study committee was formed for this purpose. The study committee was composed of the Honorable Douglas S. Lavine, the Honorable John Maloney, Professor Colin Tait of the University of Connecticut School of Law, Attorney Brenden P. Leydon and Senior Commission Attorney Jo A. Roberts.

Judge Lavine, in his letter to the Commission, conveyed his concern that "the oaths being administered in civil and criminal cases are archaic and hard for jurors to fully understand," and that they tend to perpetuate a view of the legal system as being incomprehensible and arcane. Specifically, Judge Lavine noted the voir dire oath for jurors, the oath for jurors in civil cases, the oath for alternate jurors in civil cases and the oaths for petit jurors and alternates in criminal cases.

After reviewing these oaths, found in section 1-25 of the Connecticut General Statutes, the study committee found them to be antiquated and confusing. The committee subsequently redrafted the oaths, both to convey the solemnity of the oaths and the proceedings in which they apply and to make them more understandable to the jurors swearing to or affirming them.

At its meeting of January 16, 2001, the Law Revision Commission adopted this report and recommendations for proposed legislation.

During its review, the study committee considered whether these oaths are better located in the Connecticut Practice Book than in the general statutes. The committee concluded that the oaths are properly located in the statutes and need not relocated to the Practice Book at this time, but that further consideration might be given this matter in the future.

At subsequent meetings, the Commission made two recommendations for the study committee to expand the scope of the original project. The first recommendation was for the committee to review other trial-related oaths in section 1-25. The committee complied with the recommendation and considered the oath for grand jurors in court, the oath for witnesses, the oath for witnesses twelve years of age or younger and the various oaths for interpreters. The committee believes the witness oath and the oath for witnesses twelve years of age or younger are clear and understandable in their present forms and need not be redrafted.

After discussion with Deputy State’s Attorney Dominick Galluzzo, the committee recommends that the present oath for grand jurors impaneled in court be repealed. According to Mr. Galluzzo, this oath is intended for members of an indicting grand jury, which no longer exists in Connecticut. In its place, Mr. Galluzzo recommended an oath to be administered to witnesses coming before an investigatory grand jury, which does presently exist under Connecticut law.

The second recommendation by the Commission was to expand the project even further to include a review of all the oaths in section 1-25 and to consider the oaths in the light of section 1-23 of the general statutes. Section 1-23 provides:

When any person, required to take an oath, from scruples of conscience declines to take it in the usual form or when the court is satisfied that any person called as a witness does not believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, a solemn affirmation may be administered to him in the form of the oath prescribed, except that instead of the word "swear" the words "solemnly and sincerely affirm and declare" shall be used and instead of the words "so help you God" the words "upon the pains and penalties of perjury or false statement" shall be used.

When the committee examined the oaths in section 1-25 in this light, it discovered that, presently, none of the oaths are drafted in conformance with section 1-23. The committee has redrafted all but one of the statutory oaths and section 1-23 to make the two sections agree. The two redrafted sections, including all revisions recommended by the study committee, are included in Attachment B.

The single oath that the study committee did not redraft is that for members of the General Assembly, Executive and Judicial Officers. The form of this oath is prescribed in Article Eleventh, Section 1 of the Constitution of the State of Connecticut. Thus, without amending the constitution, the oath must remain as is, or might be deleted from the statute if preferred.

The Law Revision Commission believes that the proposed bill provides redrafted oaths that reflect the dignity and gravity of the occasions for which they are given, and that are understandable and meaningful to the individuals who take them. The Commission, therefore, recommends a joint favorable report for the proposed legislation and its submission to the General Assembly for the 2001 legislative session.