Judiciary Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-6578

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING THE PENALTY FOR A CAPITAL FELONY.

Vote Date:

3/31/2009

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable

PH Date:

3/4/2009

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Judiciary Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

There have been years of debate on the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent to murder. Additionally, many question the cost of prolonged litigation with no certainty of enforcement of current statute and the prolonged uncertainty of justice for victims. Many also question the morality of state sponsored execution. This bill seeks to replace the death penalty with a penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of release for certain murders committed on or after the effective date of passage.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Division of Criminal Justice: “… strongly opposes H.B. No. 6578.” “… it purports to abolish the death penalty for capital felonies committed after its effective date….In reality it would effectively abolish the death penalty for anyone who has not yet been executed because it would be untenable as a matter of constitutional law or public policy for the state to execute someone today who could not be executed for committing the same conduct after a date in the future. The state could not seek the death penalty in any pending case that is presently eligible for the death penalty and any death penalty that has been imposed and not carried out would effectively be nullified.

“…there are numerous published studies in peer-reviewed journals establishing that executions do deter the crime of murder and therefore save lives.”… “the great bulk of costs come as a result of post-conviction litigation….(opponents) ignore other studies that show that the possibility that the death penalty may be imposed has a positive effect on the willingness of defendants to plead guilty and accept a life sentence or other substantial sentence that protects the public and saves the cost of trials and post-conviction proceedings as well as the anguish to the families and friends of victims caused by the nature and duration of those proceedings.”

“Consider the fact that the death penalty is not sought in all capital felony cases and imposed in even fewer… (rather) a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole….shows how carefully each case is examined by prosecutors who carefully decide when to seek the death penalty…”

“There is also evidence that the current death penalty law and its implementation reflects the public will. Polls find that when given the choice, the public supports the sentence of life without the possibility of parole over the sentence of death. This is exactly what the prosecutors, jurors and judges in capitol cases do—they make that choice based upon the unique details of the crime, the defendant and the victims in that case and that case alone.”

…. “The debate over the death penalty in Connecticut is not about the actual guilt or innocence of the individuals sentenced to death…there are no innocent people on death row in Connecticut. The only issue is when the rightfully ordered sentence of the court is carried out and the law as enacted by this General Assembly is enforced with regard to these individuals.”

“…The post-conviction process after the final appeal has become a wasteland into which excessive amounts of money are dumped and through which the families and friends of victims are forced to wander as the cases go on for years without apparent end….It is inhumane that the innocent families of innocent victims of violent and unspeakable crimes should be subject to the terror of decades of legal maneuvering before the punishment lawfully ordered by our judicial system can be carried out.”

“… The sole reason for the reported high cost of capital litigation is delay for the sake of delay and not incompetent counsel or overzealous prosecutors… If the Committee wants to rduce the costs of capital litigation, it should do so by reducing the excruciating delays in post-conviction proceedings that only serve to deny the finality the victims of these horrendous crimes and their families so rightfully deserve.”

Office of the Chief Public Defender, Susan O. Storey: “… strongly supports the abolition of the Death Penalty in Connecticut and therefore supports the passage of … 6578.” “…it is important to stress our position that total abolition is a preferable goal from both a moral and economic perspective….” “The death penalty's enormous drain on state resources is extreme and longstanding….” “…. While economic concerns are major, other factors favoring abolition cited include:

● There is no compelling evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent.

● A sentence of life without the possibility of release adequately protects public safety.

● Abolition of the Death Penalty will eliminate the risk of executing the innocent.

● There is increasing evidence that the death penalty is inconsistent with evolving world and national standards of decency.

● The enormous and enduring costs of death penalty litigation could be better spent on other important criminal justice issues, such as establishing cold case units and ensuring adequate services for the families of murder victims and other victims of crime.

● Individual state budgets cannot support the cost of the death penalty in the current budget crisis.”

“…. Annual costs for capital defense consistently average 5% to 6% of total Public Defender Budget for only .006% of total Public Defender caseload…” “…Costs for capital defense FY 09 are again projected to be 5% of our total appropriation i.e. approximately $2,511,978.”

“…the cost to Criminal Justice must also be considerable… All relevant data would seem to indicate that imposition of a sentence of life without possibility of release versus execution is more cost effective for the state and does not jeopardize public safety.”

Other main points made by Office of the Chief Public Defender include:

● Legal costs are rising for Federal appeals and it is becoming more difficult to enlist competent counsel for state death penalty appeals.

● Data cited that abolishment will not decrease numbers of life without release sentences and in fact may protect innocent suspects “who feel compelled to confess under duress in order to save their lives.”

● The risk of disproportionate sentencing will be eliminated along with costs on racial disparity litigation appeals.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Connecticut Bar Association Human Rights and Responsibility Section, Sherwood Anderson: “The position is the following, 'To support abolition of the death penalty in Connecticut for those presently awaiting execution and those who are presently charged or in the future may be charged with capital felonies; and to support a maximum penalty for capital felonies in all cases to be life imprisonment without the possibility of release.'

Other main points made by the Section include:

● Execution is irreversible

● Costs of capital felony murder cases are significantly higher than non-capital felony murder cases.

● Connecticut stands alone in the northeast as only state that effectively allows the death penalty.

● The Northeast has by far the lowest rate of executions in the country and also the lowest murder rate.

● Death penalty disproportionately affects the poor and minorities.

● Wealthy individuals with private attorneys are rarely sentenced to death.

● Vast majority of nations, including all EU members, have abolished the death penalty.

● The universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed by the United States, calls for abolition.

● Geographic disparity in Connecticut. One is more likely to be prosecuted in Waterbury for capital felony than elsewhere in the state.

Michael C. Culhane, Connecticut Catholic Conference: “…supports this legislation basically because the moral teachings of the Catholic Church mandate that we must respect all life from conception to natural death….”

“Aware of the very fallible nature of our criminal justice system, we are deeply concerned about the possibility of the State calling for the execution of an individual who is, in reality, innocent.”

Saint Elizabeth Seton, a Roman Catholic Community, Rocky Hill, Eileen Bransfield, Pastoral Minister: “Enclosed is a petition….We applaud the Committee … for endorsing abolition….

The petition urges the Connecticut Legislature to abolish the death penalty and is signed by forty-three members of the Community.

Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Edward J. Gavin, President: “CCDLA opposes the imposition of capital punishment in all circumstances.”

Other main points made by CCDLA:

● Capital Punishment is unconstitutional.

● Risks execution of the innocent.

● Is disproportionally applied.

● Is morally and ethically wrong.

● Is clearly not a deterrent to violent crime.

● Is an egregious waste of ever limited taxpayers dollars.

CCDLA has partnered with the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty (CNADP) and supports its mission statement:

“CNADP stands strongly opposed to the death penalty, as it is poor public policy. The death penalty does not deter crime, it is not cost efficient, it kills the mentally ill, it is economically and racially biased, it kills the innocent, and it does not provide closure to families – it is simply revenge, not justice.”

American Civil Liberties Union Connecticut, Andrew Schneider, Executive Director: “…Capital punishment, the ultimate denial of civil liberties, is a costly irreversible and barbaric practice, the epitome of cruel and unusual punishment. It's implementation is grotesquely unfair and it does not deter crime.”

Other main points made by ACLU CT:

● Three factors greatly influence who gets executed and who does not: race, geography and poverty.

● Social Science research has discredited the claim that execution deters murder.

● Death penalty is irreversible: from 1973-1999, average 3.1 exonerations per year; from 2000-2007, average 5 exonerations per year.

● More expensive than life in prison without parole

Sister Mary Alice Synkewecz, RSM, Sister Linda, Pepe, CSG, Collaborative Center for Justice, Inc.: “we support the …bill because the death penalty, the premeditated and 'legal' execution of a person, is simply wrong for us, as civilized individuals and a community.”

“…All to frequently, the arguments heard to impose the death penalty sound more like justifications for seeking 'revenge.' This is an inappropriate use of our Judicial System….”

Additional Sources of Support for HB-6578:

● A Better Way Foundation of Connecticut, Lorenzo Jones, Executive Director

● Arthur J. Laffin, murder victim family member

● Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, Ben Jones, Executive Director

● Walter H, Everett, father of a murder victim

● Harold Dean, Superior Court Judge, retired

● People Against Injustice, Sally Joughin

● Joan Cavanagh, New Haven, CT

● Elizabeth B. Gardner, Professor Emerita, Fairfield University

● Dr. Antoinette Bosco, Brookfield, CT

● William L. Tuthill, Retired Warden and Assistant Deputy Commissioner of CT Department of Correction

● Wesleyan Democrats, President Brad Spahn

● Retired Department of Correction Employees:

Mary Morgan Wolff, Deputy Warden

Bob Carbone, Captain

Ed Davis, Warden

Carol Dunn, Warden

Roger Everson, Warden

Bob Gillis, Director of Parole and Community Services

David Marcel, Warden

Peter Matos, Deputy Commissioner of Operations

Peg Pinton, School Teacher USD#1

Ed Quinlan, Director of Community Services

Kathy Taylor, Counselor Supervisor

Bill Tuthill, Warden and Assistant Deputy Commissioner

Bill Watson, Deputy Warden

Larry Albert, Acting Commissioner during the Governor O'Neil administration and Deputy Commissioner for 14 years thereafter

Lynda Rowan, Warden

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Dr. William Petit: “I am here to make a statement in support of the Death Penalty… because I believe it is a matter of justice.”

“Society needs our government and specifically in Connecticut our Judiciary Committee to write laws that protects us as well as preserving justice and dignity for victims.”

“…. By committing murder – that is unlawful killing – a person has forfeited his right to this inviolable life – he in fact has shown a complete disregard for his victims and himself.”

Regarding the Death Penalty opponents who speak, “Do not kill in my name,” Dr. Petit says, “I assume that death penalty opponents value lives of murders more than their victims….”

“If you allow murders to live you are giving them more regard, more value than three women who never hurt a soul and played by all of society's rules for all of their short lives.”

“My family got the death penalty and you want to give murders life – that is NOT JUSTICE. Any penalty less than death for murder is unjust and trivializes the victim and the victims family. It is immoral and unjust to all of us in our society.”

Johanna Chapman (sister of Dr. Petit): “I am against repealing the death penalty because I believe that there must be personal responsibility in a civilized society… The death penalty is not about revenge. The death penalty is about justice. And justice is about consequences. Executing people for their actions, in my mind, is not murder. It is a consequence.”

“… if the Judiciary Committee is against pursuing the death penalty against criminals who have tortured, raped and murdered our love ones…Just who is the Judiciary Committee protecting? Criminals? Just what is the state of CT for?? Criminal Rights??”

“….message this sends to me and my family….that the state of Ct does not care about our safety…that the state of Ct is more concerned about criminal rights than those of victims and it says that the state of CT is soft on crime.”

“Is the state budget crisis a reason to turn our backs on common sense and safety of our citizens?”…. When we allow fiduciary interests to dominate common sense…we all lose.”

“The death penalty in CT may not work efficiently. I appeal to you today…do not throw it away. The arguments to abolish the death penalty in Ct are inane, insensitive and insulting to the citizens of CT. Instead...work to fix it so that it does work efficiently….”

Bernice Votino, Southington, CT: Bernice Votino is a family member whose brother and niece, along with two others were murdered on September 25, 1996 and recounts the horrific details of the crime and the anguish and anger she as a family member suffers. She adamantly supports the death penalty.

“Stop this madness – save time, money, anger – you must follow through with instilling, and leave the death penalty alive and do it – don't let them breath for 10 years and not do anything about it!!!”

Reported by: William Zenko

Date: 4/8/09

NOTE: Office of Fiscal Analysis Report 2009OFA-1521, dated March 4, 2009 states that, “The state would save approximately $4 million annually in defense and prosecution costs due to a repeal of the death penalty.”