May 23, 2000
KILLING A POLICE OFFICER
By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst
You want to know the penalty for killing a police officer.
Killing a police officer is a capital felony, punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of release. It is one of nine capital felonies.
For anyone convicted of a capital felony, the law requires a separate sentencing hearing before a judge or jury to weigh mitigating and aggravating factors. The judge or jury cannot impose the death penalty and must sentence the person to life imprisonment without the possibility of release if the mitigating factors outweigh or are of equal weight to the aggravating factors or if any of four automatic bars to the death penalty exist.
The following crimes are capital felonies:
1. murder of a law enforcement officer, sheriff or deputy sheriff, Department of Correction employee, or fire fighter in the line of duty;
2. murder for hire;
3. murder committed by someone who has a previous (a) intentional murder conviction or (b) conviction for murder committed in the course of a felony;
4. murder committed by someone serving a life sentence;
5. murdering a kidnapped person;
6. causing someone's death by selling him hard drugs;
7. murder committed during first-degree sexual assault;
8. murder of two or more people at the same time or in the course of a single transaction; or
9. murder of a person under age 16 (CGS § 53a-54b).
After a person is convicted of a capital felony, the judge or jury considering whether the court should impose the death penalty must determine and state in a special verdict (1) whether one or more aggravating factors outweigh one or more mitigating factors and (2) the existence of any automatic bars to the death penalty. If the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors or are of equal weight, the court must sentence the defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of release. If the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors, the sentence is death (CGS § 53a-46a).
The only aggravating factors that the judge or jury can consider are that the defendant:
1. committed the offense while committing or attempting to commit a felony, or while fleeing from a felony he committed or attempted to commit, and he had previously been convicted of the same felony;
2. had been previously convicted of at least two state or federal offenses, each of which was committed on different occasions, involved serious bodily injury, and had a maximum penalty of at least one year imprisonment;
3. committed the offense knowingly creating a risk of death to another person in addition to the victim;
4. committed the offense in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner;
5. hired someone to commit the offense;
6. committed the offense in return for payment, or the expectation of payment; or
7. committed the offense with an assault weapon.
The jury or court must determine if a particular factor concerning the defendant's character, background, history, or the nature and circumstances of the crime is mitigating, considering all the facts and circumstances of the case. Mitigating factors are not defenses or excuses but are factors which, in fairness and mercy, tend either to extenuate or reduce the defendant's blame for the offense or otherwise provide a reason for a sentence less than death (CGS § 53a-46a).
Automatic Bars to the Death Penalty
Four factors automatically bar the death penalty. A defendant cannot be sentenced to death if:
1. he was under age 18 at the time of the crime;
2. his mental capacity or ability to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was significantly impaired at the time of the crime, but not so impaired as to constitute a defense;
3. he was guilty of a capital felony only as an accessory and had relatively minor participation; and
4. he could not reasonably have foreseen that his conduct, in the course of committing the crime he was convicted of, would cause or create the grave risk of someone's death (CGS § 53a-46a(h)).