OLR Bill Analysis

SB 796 (as amended by House "A" and Senate "A")*

AN ACT CONCERNING LENGTHY SENTENCES FOR CRIMES COMMITTED BY A CHILD OR YOUTH AND THE SENTENCING OF A CHILD OR YOUTH CONVICTED OF CERTAIN FELONY OFFENSES.

SUMMARY:

This bill makes a number of changes related to sentencing and parole release of offenders who were under 18 at the time they committed crimes, including:

1. retroactively eliminating (a) life sentences for capital felony and arson murder and (b) convictions for murder with special circumstances;

2. establishing alternative parole eligibility rules that can make someone eligible for parole sooner if he or she was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison;

3. requiring criminal courts, when sentencing someone convicted of a class A or B felony committed when he or she was between ages 14 and 18, to (a) consider certain mitigating factors of youth and (b) indicate the maximum prison term that may apply and whether the person may be eligible for release under the bill's alternative parole eligibility rules; and

4. prohibiting a child convicted of a class A or B felony from waiving a presentence investigation or report and requiring the report to address the same sentencing factors the bill requires a criminal court to consider.

The bill requires the Sentencing Commission to study how to notify victims of the parole eligibility laws and release mechanisms available to people sentenced to more than two years in prison. The commission must report on its study and any recommendations to the Judiciary Committee by February 1, 2016.

The bill also makes technical and conforming changes ( 3-5).

*Senate Amendment “A” eliminates application of the sentencing considerations to cases involving class C felonies, eliminates a requirement for court approval before a child convicted of a class C felony can waive a presentence investigation or report, requires courts to state the maximum sentence a juvenile convicted of a class A or B felony may serve and whether he or she may be eligible for release under the bill's parole rules, adds the provision on the Sentencing Commission study, and makes technical changes.

*House Amendment “A” changes the sentencing factors a court must consider when sentencing someone who committed a class A or B felony when under age 18 by (1) retaining the requirement to consider scientific and psychological evidence of the difference between a child's and adult's brain development, (2) requiring consideration of the defendant's age at the time of the offense and the hallmarks of adolescence and (3) eliminating specific requirements to consider a child's lack of maturity, underdeveloped sense of responsibility, vulnerability to negative influences and pressures, increased capacity for change, and reduced competency to appreciate the consequences of actions and negotiate the criminal justice system.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2015, and the provisions regarding capital felony, murder with special circumstances, and arson murder apply regardless of when an offender is or was convicted.

6-9 — SENTENCES FOR OFFENDERS UNDER AGE 18

By law, capital felony punishes only those crimes committed before April 25, 2012. Under current law, juveniles can be sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of release for committing a capital felony and adults to either death or life imprisonment without possibility of release. The bill prohibits sentencing someone for a capital felony if he or she was under 18 when the crime was committed and overturns prior sentences of this type.

The bill prohibits convicting someone of murder with special circumstances unless the offender was at least 18 at the time of the offense. It overturns any prior convictions of this crime for offenders who were under 18 at the time of the crime. By law and unchanged by the bill, this crime is punishable by life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

The bill lowers the penalty for arson murder when the offender is under 18 from life imprisonment, statutorily defined as 60 years without parole, to 25 to 60 years. It applies this change retroactively to decrease the prison sentence of offenders who committed this crime when under 18 who have already been convicted.

The bill also makes conforming changes.

2 — CONSIDERATIONS AT SENTENCING

The bill requires a criminal court to consider certain factors when sentencing someone convicted of a class A or B felony committed when he or she was between ages 14 and 18. In addition to other relevant information, the bill requires the court to consider the defendant's age at the time of the offense, the hallmark features of adolescence, and scientific and psychological evidence showing the difference between a child's and adult's brain development.

If the court proposes a lengthy sentence under which it is likely the defendant will die in prison, the bill requires the court to consider how evidence of the difference between a child's and adult's brain development counsels against such a sentence.

The bill requires the Judicial Branch's Court Support Services Division to compile reference material on adolescent psychology and brain development to help courts sentence children.

1 — PAROLE ELIGIBILITY

Under existing law, someone is generally eligible for parole after serving (1) 50% of his or her sentence minus any risk reduction credits earned if convicted of a nonviolent crime and (2) 85% of his or her sentence if convicted of a violent crime, home invasion, or 2nd degree burglary. Someone convicted of the following crimes is ineligible for parole: murder, capital felony, murder with special circumstances, felony murder, arson murder, or 1st degree aggravated sexual assault.

The bill establishes alternative parole eligibility rules that can make someone eligible for parole sooner if he or she (1) commits a crime when he or she is under 18 and (2) is sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. The eligibility rules do not apply to any portion of a sentence imposed for a crime committed when the person was 18 or older. Existing parole eligibility rules apply to such a sentence.

The rules apply if they make someone eligible for parole sooner than under existing law and they also apply to someone convicted of a crime who would otherwise be ineligible for parole. Under these rules, someone sentenced to:

1. up to 50 years in prison is eligible for parole after serving the greater of 12 years or 60% of his or her sentence or

2. more than 50 years in prison is eligible for parole after serving 30 years.

The bill applies to offenders incarcerated on and after October 1, 2015 regardless of when the crime was committed or the offender sentenced.

Required Hearing

The bill requires (1) a parole hearing when someone becomes parole-eligible under the bill's provisions and (2) the board to notify, at least 12 months before the hearing, the Chief Public Defender's Office, appropriate state's attorney, Department of Correction's (DOC) Victim Services Unit, Office of Victim Advocate, and Judicial Branch's Office of Victim Services. The Chief Public Defender's Office must provide counsel for an indigent person.

At the hearing, the bill requires the board to allow:

1. the inmate to make a statement;

2. the inmate's counsel and state's attorney to submit reports and documents; and

3. any victim of the person's crime to make a statement, as with other parole hearings.

The board may also request (1) testimony from mental health professionals and relevant witnesses and (2) reports from the DOC or others. The board must use validated risk and needs assessment tools and risk-based structured decision making and release criteria. (Existing law requires the board's chairman to adopt policies on these topics.)

Release Decisions

After the hearing, the bill allows the board to release someone on parole if:

1. the release (a) holds the offender accountable to the community without compromising public safety; (b) reflects the offense's seriousness and makes the sentence proportional to the harm to victims and the community; (c) uses the most appropriate sanctions available, including prison, community punishment, and supervision; (d) could reduce criminal activity, impose just punishment, and provide the offender with meaningful and effective rehabilitation and reintegration; and (e) is fair and promotes respect for the law;

2. it appears from all available information, including DOC reports, that (a) there is a reasonable probability the offender will not violate the law again and (b) the benefits of release to the offender and society substantially outweigh the benefits from continued confinement; and

3. it appears from all available information, including DOC reports, that the offender is substantially rehabilitated, considering his or her character, background, and history, including (a) the offender's prison record, age, and circumstances at the time of committing the crime; (b) whether he or she has shown remorse and increased maturity since committing the crime; (c) his or her contributions to others' welfare through service; (d) his or her efforts to overcome substance abuse, addiction, trauma, lack of education, or obstacles he or she faced as a child or youth in prison; (e) the opportunities for rehabilitation in prison; and (f) the overall degree of his or her rehabilitation considering the nature and circumstances of the crime.

The bill requires the board to articulate reasons for its decision on the record. If the board denies parole, the bill allows the board to reassess the person's suitability for a hearing at a later time determined by the board but no sooner than two years after the board's denial.

The bill specifies that the board's decisions under these provisions are not appealable.

BACKGROUND

Related Cases—U.S. Supreme Court

In Graham v. Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment prohibits states from sentencing defendants under 18 to life without parole for non-homicide crimes. The Court stated that there must be “some meaningful opportunity” for release based on a defendant's demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. The Court stated that the Eighth Amendment does not prohibit a juvenile who commits a non-homicide crime from being kept in prison for life but it prohibits making the judgment “at the outset that those offenders never will be fit to re-enter society” (130 S.Ct. 2011 (2010)).

In Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits courts from automatically imposing life without parole sentences on offenders who committed homicides while they were juveniles (under 18). The Court did not categorically bar life without parole sentences for juveniles but stated that a court must “take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison” (132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012)).

Related Cases—Connecticut Supreme Court

In State v. Riley, the Connecticut Supreme Court considered how the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings applied to someone convicted of committing homicide and non-homicide crimes while a juvenile. The juvenile in this case received a cumulative 100-year prison sentence. The court ruled that even when a court has discretion in sentencing as it did in this case, Miller requires consideration of the juvenile's youth as mitigation before sentencing the juvenile to the functional equivalent of a life sentence without the possibility of release. Because the sentencing court did not consider the factors of youth, the court ordered a new sentencing hearing.

In deference to the legislature and because the new sentence the defendant would receive was uncertain, the court did not consider whether the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Graham would require an opportunity for release when a juvenile is sentenced to the functional equivalent of life in prison (315 Conn. 637 (2015)).

In Casiano v. Commissioner of Correction, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Miller's requirements to consider certain factors of youth at sentencing apply (1) retroactively to juvenile offenders seeking collateral review of sentences imposed before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Miller and (2) to a juvenile who received a total effective sentence of 50 years in prison without eligibility for parole (SC 19345, May 26, 2015).

Cases in Juvenile Court and Superior Court

By law, juvenile courts have jurisdiction to hear criminal cases of offenders under age 18. Depending on the circumstances, offenders alleged to have committed felonies when they were between ages 14 and 18 may be transferred to the adult Superior Court criminal docket.

Felony Classifications

The law classifies felonies as A, B, C, D, or E and establishes penalties for each classification. There are also unclassified felonies that have different penalties. Table 1 displays the penalties for felony classifications.

Table 1: Penalties for Felony Classifications

Felony

Prison Term

Maximum Fine

Class A felony of murder with special circumstances

Life without the possibility of release

$20,000

Class A felony of murder

25 to 60 years

$20,000

Class A felony of aggravated sexual assault of a minor

25 to 50 years

$20,000

Class A felony

10 to 25 years

$20,000

Class B felony of 1st degree manslaughter with a firearm

Five to 40 years

$15,000

Class B felony

One to 20 years

$15,000

Class C felony

One to 10 years

$10,000

Class D felony

Up to 5 years

$5,000

Class E felony

Up to 3 years

$3,500

Capital Felony and Murder with Special Circumstances

By law, a person committed a capital felony, before April 25, 2012, or commits murder with special circumstances, after that date, under the same circumstances. A person is guilty of one of these crimes when he or she murders:

1. certain officers while performing their duties, such as a police officer, state marshal, special conservation officer, or DOC employee;

2. for pay or hires someone to murder;

3. after a previous conviction for intentional murder or murder while a felony was committed;

4. while sentenced to life imprisonment;

5. someone that he or she kidnapped;

6. while committing 1st degree sexual assault;

7. two or more people at the same time or in the course of a single transaction; or

8. a person under age 16.

Presentence Investigation Report

The law requires a presentence investigation for anyone convicted of a felony for the first time in Connecticut. The court may request it for any crime or offense other than a capital felony or murder with special circumstances (the judge does not have discretion when imposing a sentence for these crimes as he or she does with most crimes). Probation officers prepare the report, which includes information on the circumstances of the offense; the victim's attitude; and the defendant's criminal record, social history, and present condition.

Related Bill

HB 6926, File 681, favorably reported by the Judiciary Committee, contains many of the same provisions. HB 6926 also (1) requires sentencing judges to state a defendant's maximum prison sentence, earliest parole eligibility date, and the number of credits he or she may earn to reduce the sentence; (2) requires prosecutors to include maximum prison sentence and parole eligibility information when describing plea agreements to victims; and (3) prohibits someone convicted of 1st degree manslaughter or 1st degree manslaughter with a firearm from earning risk reduction credits.

COMMITTEE ACTION

Judiciary Committee

Joint Favorable

Yea

27

Nay

14

(03/27/2015)