March 01, 2012

Connecticut Abolishes the Death Penalty

Rebecca Katz

On April 25, 2012, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed a bill into law abolishing capital punishment in Connecticut, replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. The law is effective immediately, although repeal is not retroactive. Eleven individuals will remain on death row in Connecticut, their sentences unaffected by the law.

The Connecticut General Assembly passed a similar bill in 2009 that would have abolished the death penalty, but that bill was ultimately vetoed by then-Governor Jodi Rell. Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, Connecticut has executed only one prisoner, Michael Ross, who waived his remaining appeals and volunteered to be executed in 2005. Mr. Ross’s execution was the first in all of New England in more than 30 years.

Advocates of repeal cited the death penalty’s extensive and costly appeals process as a strong consideration in support of the decision to abolish the death penalty. “The people of this state pay for appeal after appeal . . . . The 11 men currently on death row in Connecticut are far more likely to die of old age than they are to be put to death,” Governor Malloy said in his statement on the legislation. According to the General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis, the death penalty costs the state an estimated four million dollars per year to maintain. Repeal is expected to save the state $850,000 per year in the next two years, and the Office expects that amount will grow to $5 million in subsequent years.

Several states have questioned the use of capital punishment in recent years, raising concerns about cost, arbitrariness, racial bias, innocence claims, prosecutorial misconduct, and inadequate representation. Most recently, a repeal measure qualified for the November 2012 ballot in California, home to nearly 25 percent of the nation’s death row prisoners. In November 2011, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber declared a halt to all executions during his time in office. 

Connecticut is the fifth state to eliminate capital punishment in the last five years, joining Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico. Governor Malloy stated that his decision to sign the legislation was deeply affected by his years of work as a prosecutor: “I learned firsthand that our system of justice is very imperfect,” he said. “I came to believe that doing away with the death penalty was the only way to ensure it would not be unfairly imposed.”

Rebecca Katz

Project Associate