The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision Thursday that the execution of inmates sentenced to death before state legislation passed explicitly banning capital punishment is unconstitutional.
The decision spares the lives of at least 11 prisoners on death row in Connecticut.
In the majority opinion, Justice Richard Palmer explained that execution of convicted felons “would violate the state constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”
In addition to the strict interpretation of constitutional language, the majority agreed that the death penalty “no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency and no longer serves any legitimate penological purpose.”
Connecticut is only one of seven states which have effectively banned capital punishment since 2007. All seven, except New Mexico, have now commuted the sentences of prisoners who were scheduled to be executed.
“This decision reflects an evolving norm against the death penalty,” said the legislative and policy director of ACLU’s Connecticut chapter. “There are better ways to punish.”
In total, 19 states have banned the death penalty either through legislation or court ruling. New Hampshire is the only state in New England now that is still able to issue a death penalty sentence.
“Today is a somber day where our focus should not be on the 11 men sitting on death row, but with their victims and those surviving families (sic) members,” Governor Dannel Malloy (D-CT) said in a statement. “My thoughts and prayers are with them during what must be a difficult day.”
While the ruling effectively commutes the sentences of 11 death row inmates, the State of Connecticut had only executed one convict since 1960. In 2005, serial killer Michael Ross was executed by lethal injection 18 years after sentencing.
[AP] [Washington Post] [Deathpenaltyinfo.org] [Photo courtesy Newsweek]