PA 15-84—SB 796
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 act makes a number of changes related to sentencing and parole release of offenders who were under age 18 when they committed crimes. It:
1. retroactively eliminates (a) life sentences for capital felony and arson murder and (b) convictions for murder with special circumstances;
2. establishes alternative parole eligibility rules that can make someone sentenced to more than 10 years in prison eligible for parole sooner;
3. requires criminal courts, when sentencing someone transferred to adult court and convicted of a class A or B felony, 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 act's alternative parole eligibility rules; and
4. prohibits a child convicted of a class A or B felony from waiving a presentence investigation or report (see BACKGROUND) and requires the report to address the same sentencing factors the act requires a criminal court to consider.
The act 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 act also makes technical and conforming changes.
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
Under prior law, (1) juveniles could be sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of release for committing a capital felony and (2) adults could be sentenced to either death or life imprisonment without possibility of release (see BACKGROUND). The act prohibits sentencing someone for a capital felony if he or she was under age 18 when the crime was committed and overturns prior sentences of this type.
The act prohibits convicting someone of murder with special circumstances unless the offender was at least age 18 at the time of the offense. It overturns any prior convictions of this crime for offenders who were under age 18 at the time of the crime. By law, unchanged by the act, this crime is punishable by life imprisonment without the possibility of release (see BACKGROUND).
The act lowers the penalty for arson murder when the offender is under age 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 those convicted of committing this crime when under age 18.
The act also makes conforming changes.
§ 2 — CONSIDERATIONS AT SENTENCING
The act requires a court to consider certain factors when sentencing a child transferred to adult criminal court and convicted of a class A or B felony. (The law, as amended by PA 15-183, requires transferring juveniles age 15 to 17 to adult criminal court when charged with a class A felony. Some class B felonies require an automatic transfer while others do not. ) In addition to other information relevant to sentencing, the act 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 act 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 act 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 certain crimes, such as murder, is ineligible for parole.
The act establishes alternative parole eligibility rules for someone who (1) commits a crime when he or she is under age 18 and (2) is sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. These 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. 10 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 act's rules apply to offenders incarcerated on and after October 1, 2015 regardless of when the crime was committed or the offender sentenced. The act's eligibility rules do not apply to any portion of a sentence imposed for a crime committed when the person was age 18 or older. Existing parole eligibility rules apply to such a sentence.
The act requires (1) a parole hearing when someone becomes parole-eligible under the act 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 inmate.
At the hearing, the act 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 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 chairperson to adopt policies on these topics. )
After the hearing, the act allows the board to release the inmate 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 act requires the board to articulate reasons for its decision on the record. If the board denies parole, the act allows the board to reassess the person's suitability for a hearing at a later time it determines but no sooner than two years after the denial.
The act specifies that the board's decisions under these provisions are not appealable.
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 age 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. It said 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 (317 Conn. 52 (2015)).
Capital Felony and Murder with Special Circumstances
By law, a person is guilty of a capital felony or murder with special circumstances when he or she murders:
1. certain officers 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 committing a felony;
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.
If the crime occurred before April 25, 2012, it is classified as a capital felony.
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 the same 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.
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