The Death Penalty Debate Continues
By State Representative Bill Aman
With the combination of the high profile Petit murder trials and the election of a new governor, it is no surprise that the death penalty will be a major issue during the 2011 Legislative Session. One of the first bills proposed this session will revisit the 2009 Connecticut General Assembly vote to abolish the death penalty, which was vetoed by Governor Jodi Rell. The debate surrounding the death penalty is always an emotional one. People on both sides feel deeply and passionately that their views are valid, and appropriate. Here are the facts regarding the death penalty and how it is implemented in Connecticut.
Connecticut is among the 35 states that maintain the death penalty; Connecticut and New Hampshire being the only states in New England. There are several United States Supreme Court decisions that dictate how states implement these sentences to ensure that states adhere to the 8th Amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. These rulings protect persons under 18 years of age, those with mental handicaps and persons determined to be insane.
In Connecticut, a person convicted of a capital felony must either be sentenced to death or to prison for life with out the possibility of release. State law calls for a jury to determine whether the death penalty can be applied in a particular case and, if aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors and no automatic prohibitions to the death penalty exist, then a sentence of death is imposed. This type of sentencing is reserved for the most brutal crimes. Individuals facing the death penalty are afforded every reasonable opportunity to appeal their convictions. This process extends the time period between sentencing and executions for years, sometimes decades and is costly.
There are 11 individuals convicted of capital felonies who are currently on death row in Connecticut. As of 1995, the only form of execution permitted in the state is lethal injection. There has been only one death sentence carried out in the last 45 years. The national average amount of time spent on death row prior to execution is 13 years. Incarceration for an inmate on death row costs $96,000 per year at the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers.
Is life in prison without possibility of parole a suitable alternative to the death penalty? Should there be limitations on the appeals that can be made for persons on death row? Does it serve justice for the State of Connecticut to have the death penalty on the books for the most heinous of murders? Does the death penalty serve as a deterrent to serious crime? Is the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment? Is it morally right to have a death penalty? These are tough questions with no easy answers. What do you think?
I want to hear your thoughts and concerns regarding the death penalty. Please call me at home (860) 528 3564, email me Bill.Aman@cga.ct.gov, stop by my office hours at the library, or speak up if you see me around town.