Connecticut death penalty ruling ends costly, ineffective policy

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The Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling that our state’s capital punishment law is unconstitutional has fulfilled all of the objectives of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty (CNADP).

Since the CNADP’s founding in 1986, we have supported a complete end to executions and the Aug. 13 ruling by the Connecticut Supreme Court finally accomplished that goal.

An alliance of faith leaders, murder victims’ family members, civil rights leaders, law enforcement experts, and legal scholars spent years urging lawmakers to end our state’s costly, ineffective, and rarely used death penalty. In 2012, the Connecticut General Assembly went most of the way toward our objective by repealing the death penalty prospectively. Existing death sentences remained in place, meaning that the state still was burdened with some of the problems associated with the death penalty, such as its long appeals and high costs.

The Supreme Court’s ruling has put an end to a broken policy that prolonged the legal process, and as a result sometimes inflicted additional harm on murder victims’ families. For this reason and others, nearly 180 Connecticut murder victims’ family members in 2012 called for an end to the death penalty in a letter to Connecticut lawmakers. “In Connecticut,” they wrote, “the death penalty is a false promise that goes unfulfilled, leaving victims’ families frustrated and angry after years of fighting the legal system.”

The death penalty failed the state in others ways, too.

The General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated in 2012 that the death penalty cost the state $5 million a year. Persistent racial disparities – noted in the Court’s opinion – also marred the application of Connecticut’s death penalty. Law school professor John Donohue spent years studying decades of data and found that race and geography played a disturbing role in determining death sentences in the state.

Thankfully, that is now all in the past. Connecticut can avoid the costs and distractions that other states are enduring by attempting to find difficult to obtain lethal injection drugs. Instead of wasting energy on this failed program, law enforcement can focus on measures that actually reduce crime. As a state, it is important that we focus on making sure that murder victims’ families get the support and services they need.

Connecticut clearly is part of a larger trend nationally away from capital punishment. Seven states in the last decade have repealed the death penalty, including the conservative state of Nebraska just a couple of months ago. Four other states have moratoria on executions. The death penalty is dying and I’m proud that our state is helping to lead the way.

Sheila Denion is the Project Director for the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty and a past member of the CNADP board of directors

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