Death Penalty in Connecticut

UPDATE: As of April 2012, Connecticut was the 17th state to repeal the death penalty, and the 5th in 5 years to end the practice of capital punishment.

Facts about Connecticut’s Death Penalty

LAW: In 1972, the US Supreme Court declared all existing death penalty laws unconstitutional, includingConnecticut’s, because death sentences were imposed in an arbitrary manner. Several justices found that minorities disproportionately received death sentences. Connecticut enacted a new statute in 1973, amending it in 1985 and 1995 so as to increase the number of death sentences in the state. In line with Supreme Court rulings, Connecticut forbids the death penalty in cases where the offender was mentally retarded or under age 18 at the time of the crime.

IMPLEMENTATION: Connecticut has had over 4,800 murders, 16 death sentences, and one execution since 1973. The sole execution took place in 2005 when Michael Ross gave up his appeals. Currently, 11 individuals sit on Connecticut’s death row. Four of those individuals come from one town, Waterbury, which comprises 3% of the state’s population. Among states with 10 or more individuals on death row, Connecticut has the highest percentage who are minorities, 70%.

LIFE WITHOUT RELEASE: Life imprisonment without the possibility of release is the only alternative to the death penalty for a capital felony in Connecticut. State law bars parole for all murder convictions. Thus in Connecticut, life means life. As of March 2009, 59 individuals were serving sentences of life without release. Only three individuals to receive this sentence are no longer in prison: one committed suicide and two had their convictions overturned because evidence was withheld at trial.

COST: Because of the additional resources and preparation required in death penalty cases, the separate sentencing phase, post-conviction appeals, and the added costs of death row facilities, studies consistently find the death penalty to be more costly to implement than life without release. The General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that the death penalty costs the state of Connecticut four million dollars a year to maintain.

RECENT LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITY: The Connecticut General Assembly considered a bill to abolish the death penalty before the Ross execution in 2005. That bill made it past its first two legislative hurdles, gaining approval in the Judiciary and Appropriations Committees. It died, however, in the House of Representatives on a 60-89 vote. A bill that would abolish the death penalty for cases after its enactment was introduced in the 2009 legislative session. The Judiciary Committee endorsed this bill by a vote of 24-13 on March 31, 2009. The House then approved it by a 90-56 vote on May 13. The Senate followed suit on May 21, passing the legislation by a 19-17 vote. On June 5, Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed the bill. During the 2012 legislative session, the House and the Senate once again passed a death penalty repeal bill (also prospective), and the current Governor Dannel P. Malloy has promised to sign it into law.

CLEMENCY: In Connecticut, the governor does not have the power to grant clemency or commute a death sentence. Only the Board of Pardons and Parole has that authority. The governor’s sole power is to postpone an individual execution for a limited period of time to permit an inmate to seek judicial review or commutation from the Pardons and Parole Board, but the General Assembly can revoke that postponement. The governor lacks the power to order an end to executions.

rev. 11/15/10

 City Resolutions

In 2004, the cities ofNew Haven and Hartford passed resolutions opposing the death penalty inConnecticut. Here are the links:

2011 Legislative Session 

In the midst of a high-profile capital trial, Connecticut elected for the first time in many years a Governor who supports repealing the death penalty. On March 7, 2011, the Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on a prospective repeal bill. On April 20, the committee voted 27-17 to pass the bill. Unfortunately, the bill was never voted on in the House or the Senate.

2012 Legislative Session

Continuing the momentum from the 2009 and 2011 legislative session, a bill was introduced by the Judiciary Committee at the beginning of the 2012 session. Senate Bill 280, a prospective repeal bill, quickly passed out of committee by a vote of 24-19. Two weeks later, on April 4, the Senate passed SB 280 by a vote of 20-16. One week later, the House followed by passing the bill 86-62. Governor Dannel P. Malloy, a supporter of repeal, has promised to sign SB 280 into law. His signature makes Connecticut the 17th state to abolish the death penalty nationwide, and the 5th state in 5 years.