Topic:
SENTENCING; PERSISTENT OFFENDERS; CORRECTIONS; CRIME; CRIMINAL LAW; FELONIES;
Location:
CRIME AND CRIMINALS - PERSISTENT OFFENDERS;

OLR Research Report


March 10, 2008

 

2008-R-0154

PERSISTENT DANGEROUS FELONY OFFENDER LAW

By: Christopher Reinhart, Senior Attorney

You asked about the number of people sentenced as persistent dangerous felony offenders. You also asked how many people met the criteria to be sentenced to life in prison as persistent dangerous felony offenders but were not and what their sentences are.

SUMMARY

The persistent dangerous felony offender statute allows an offender to be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison if he or she stands convicted of one of the crimes listed in the statute and has one prior conviction for certain crimes listed in the statute that resulted in a prison term of more than one year or death. If the offender has two of the prior convictions, he or she can be sentenced to up to life in prison (CGS 53a-40(a)). Life imprisonment is statutorily defined as 60 years unless it is life imprisonment without possibility of release under the capital felony statute which means the offender's natural life (CGS 53a-35b).

We asked the Department of Correction (DOC) about the number of people currently in prison who were sentenced as persistent dangerous felony offenders. Because of the way data is entered into their database, it is unclear exactly how many offenders are persistent dangerous felony offenders. The same statute (CGS 53a-40) includes the persistent dangerous felony offender provision and several other types of persistent offenders. DOC's database includes a general entry for the statute (CGS 53a-40) and entries for some specific subsections of the statute. The database did not identify any offenders under the specific subsection that deals with persistent dangerous felony offenders (CGS 53a-40(a)). However, there were six offenders listed in the database under the broader listing for the entire statute and it is unclear whether these offenders are persistent dangerous felony offenders or other types of persistent offenders. Of these six offenders: one had two sentences to 60 years, one had a sentence of 30 years, one of 25 years, two of 15 years, and one of 10 years.

We asked DOC to provide us with information on offenders currently in prison who were not sentenced to life in prison as persistent dangerous felony offenders but who, based on their current and prior convictions, met the criteria to be persistent dangerous felony offenders and could have been sentenced up to life under that provision.

In developing the search for this information, we encountered a number of limitations in DOC's database. These include not being able to search for convictions of (1) attempts to commit one of the listed crimes and (2) substantially similar crimes in other states. These limitations are more fully described below. The information presented in this report should be viewed in light of these limitations. In addition, because we are unsure whether any of the six offenders identified in the DOC database under CGS 53a-40 are persistent dangerous felony offenders, we have not excluded them from this list. On March 4, 2008, there were 15,393 sentenced inmates in prison. Based on DOC's research, 265 of these met the criteria to be persistent dangerous felony offenders eligible for a life sentence.

The sentences for these 265 offenders ranged from seven months to 60 years. Table 1 below displays the sentences for these offenders grouped within a range of years and the percentage of all 265 offenders that fall into each range.

Table 1: Offenders meeting the criteria to be persistent dangerous felony offenders eligible for a life sentence.

Sentence Range

(Years)

Number of Offenders

Percentage of All Offenders

60 years

8

3.0%

50 up to 60

2

0.8%

40 up to 50

8

3.0%

30 up to 40

9

3.4%

20 up to 30

23

8.7%

15 up to 20

33

12.5%

10 up to 15

63

23.8%

5 up to 10

95

35.8%

Less than five

24

9.1%

Total

265

100.0%

PERSISTENT DANGEROUS FELONY OFFENDERS ELIGIBLE FOR A LIFE SENTENCE

The persistent dangerous felony offender statute allows an offender to be sentenced to up to life in prison if he or she stands convicted of one of the crimes listed in the statute and has two prior convictions for certain crimes listed in the statute that resulted in a prison term of more than one year or death (CGS 53a-40(a)). Life imprisonment is statutorily defined as 60 years unless it is life imprisonment without possibility of release under the capital felony statute which means the offender's natural life (CGS 53a-35b).

Table 2: List of current and prior convictions that make someone eligible for a life sentence as a persistent dangerous felony offender.

Current Conviction

Manslaughter

Arson

Kidnapping

1st or 2nd degree robbery

1st degree assault

1st or 3rd degree sexual assault

1st degree aggravated sexual assault

3rd degree sexual assault with a firearm

 

2 Prior Convictions (with a sentence to a prison term of more than one year)

Murder

Manslaughter

Arson

Kidnapping

1st or 2nd degree robbery

1st degree assault

1st or 3rd degree sexual assault

1st degree aggravated sexual assault

3rd degree sexual assault with a firearm

Attempt to commit one of these crimes

Convictions under predecessor statutes

Convictions of substantially similar offenses in other states

This chart does not include changes to the persistent dangerous felony offender provisions from the January Special Session which take effect March 1, 2008 (see PA 08-1, January Special Session). These changes include adding certain burglary crimes to the list of crimes in the persistent dangerous felony offender statute and eliminating findings required by the court to impose the penalty, in response to a Connecticut Supreme Court ruling.

INCARCERATED OFFENDERS MEETING THE CRITERIA TO BE PERSISTENT DANGEROUS FELONY OFFENDERS ELIGIBLE FOR A LIFE SENTENCE

We asked DOC to provide us with information on offenders currently in prison who were not sentenced as persistent dangerous felony offenders but who, based on their current conviction and prior convictions, meet the criteria to be persistent dangerous felony offenders and could have been sentenced to up to life in prison. In developing the search for this information, we encountered a number of limitations.

We attempted to exclude those currently sentenced as persistent dangerous felony offenders but we could not separate these offenders from other types of persistent offenders. As a result, we did not exclude these offenders. Based on DOC's database, it appears that there are at most six offenders currently in prison who may have been sentenced as persistent dangerous felony offenders.

We encountered a number of limitations in searching for prior convictions.

1. The persistent dangerous felony offender statute requires the offender's prior convictions to have been punished by a prison sentence of more than one year. DOC's database cannot determine whether the sentence was for more than one year. But, based on the nature of the crimes involved, it is likely that a conviction for one of them would carry a sentence of a least one year.

2. Under the statute, attempts to commit the specified crimes can count as prior convictions. The DOC database does not track convictions of attempts to commit the specified crimes.

3. Under the statute, convictions for substantially similar crimes in other states can count as prior convictions. DOC cannot provide data on these convictions.

4. Convictions under predecessor statutes can count as prior convictions. We included the predecessor statutes listed in the persistent dangerous felony offender statute but could not determine which other statutes might be considered predecessors of the current crimes. Thus, it is likely that we missed some predecessor statutes. In addition, the statute includes convictions under CGS 53-21 prior to October 1, 1971. CGS 53-21 still exists as a crime today and DOC could not distinguish convictions based on that date. Thus, including convictions under CGS 53-21 would include many offenders that we do not want to include and we did not search for any convictions under that statute.

The information presented in this report should be viewed in light of these limitations.

Current Sentences for These Offenders

With all of the limitations described above, DOC identified 265 offenders who met the criteria to be persistent dangerous felony offenders eligible for a life sentence. DOC provided us with the total effective prison term for these 265 offenders. Table 3 displays this information from longest to shortest sentence.

Table 3: Sentences for offenders meeting the criteria to be persistent dangerous felony offenders eligible for a life sentence but who were not sentenced under that provision

Length

of Sentence

Number of Offenders

60 years

8

59 years

1

53 years

1

45 years

3

44 years, 6 months

1

41 years

1

40 years

3

37 years

1

36 years

1

35 years

1

34 years

1

32 years

1

30 years

4

27 years

1

25 years

8

24 years

1

23 years, 6 months

1

22 years

1

20 years, 6 months

1

20 years, 3 months

1

20 years

9

19 years, 11 months

1

19 years, 6 months

1

19 years

2

18 years

6

17 years

4

16 years

1

15 years, 1 month

1

15 years

17

14 years, 3 months

1

14 years

7

13 years

8

12 years, 6 months

1

12 years

14

11 years, 8 months

2

11 years, 6 months

3

11 years

3

10 years, 6 months

2

10 years

22

9 years, 9 months

1

9 years, 6 months

3

9 years

19

8 years, 6 months

1

8 years, 3 months

1

8 years

17

7 years, 6 months

3

7 years, 4.4 months

1

7 years

14

6 years, 7 months

1

6 years, 6 months

3

6 years, 3 months

2

6 years

9

5 years, 10 months

1

5 years, 6 months

5

5 years, 1 month

1

5 years

13

4 years, 10.2 months

1

4 years, 6 months

2

4 years

4

3 years, 6 months

2

3 years, 3 months

1

3 years, 2 months

1

3 years

5

2 years, 6 months

1

2 years

2

1 year, 6 months

2

1 year

2

7 months

1

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