Since the death penalty repeal was signed into law in April, defense attorneys have been looking for ways to challenge the law's unusual prospective provision, an issue many believe will most likely be taken up by the state's highest court.
But that is not stopping lawyers from raising the issue in state court.
In Rockville Superior Court Tuesday, a defense attorney for one of the death row inmates suing the state over whether prosecution of death penalty cases in Connecticut is legally fair, pushed for resolution to questions about the constitutionality of capital punishment in the state in light of the repeal.
"It really is an issue that's crying out for a decision," Stamford attorney David S. Golub said during a hearing on a lawsuit filed by death row inmates who charge that there is racial, ethnic and geographic disparity in the way the death penalty has been administered in Connecticut.
The legislative repeal abolishes the death penalty for future capital crimes committed in the state but allows executions for those who committed capital crimes before the new law was passed.
In June, the issue was raised at a hearing for Richard Roszkowski, a Trumbull construction worker convicted in 2009 of killing his former girlfriend, her 9-year-old daughter and his former roommate in Bridgeport.
Roszkowski's death sentence was overturned and he is awaiting a new penalty phase in his case.
Judge Samuel J. Sferrazza, the judge in the upcoming habeas corpus trial on death row inmates' claims, scheduled for Sept. 5, held off on weighing in on the matter Tuesday.
Questions about the repeal surfaced during arguments Tuesday on a defense motion to amend the convicts' claims in the case. Sferrezza did not rule on whether inmates can include questions about the new law's prospective provision in their existing petition. He said he would make that decision possibly later this week.
Prosecutors Michael E. O'Hare and Michael Proto agreed that questions about the prospective provision need to be resolved but say the racial disparity civil trial — which has been pending for years — is the not the case in which to resolve them. They said death row inmates can raise the matter in individual court filings.
"Death Row Legal Team Seeks to Argue Abolition For All," by Hugh McQuaid for CT News Junkie.
Lawyers for at least eight of the 10 men sentenced to death in Connecticut argued Tuesday that the state’s repeal of the death penalty was pertinent to their lawsuit alleging that capital punishment is too arbitrary to be constitutional.
The lawsuit rests upon the claim that Connecticut’s death sentence is imposed arbitrarily, with racial and geographic factors making certain offenders more likely to be sentenced to death.
In Rockville Superior Court on Tuesday morning, a team of lawyers argued that Judge Samuel Sferrazza should allow them to amend their complaint to account for the legislature’s repeal of the death penalty for future offenders.
Attorney David Golub said the prospective nature of the new law made the death sentence even more arbitrary because it allows some offenders to be executed while precluding other offenders guilty of similar crimes simply because of the date the crimes were committed.
“If I commit a crime on Monday I get the death penalty. If I commit the same crime on Tuesday I do not,” Golub said. “... It doesn’t make sense.”
However, lawyers from the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office asked the judge to deny the request to change the lawsuit. Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Proto said that rendering illegal the death sentences of the inmates already set to be executed was not lawmakers’ intent when they passed the bill back in April.
Proto said that the legislative enactment was not within the parameters of what the court was tasked with addressing. He said amending the complaint would also add more delays in a case where delay already is inevitable.
"Bias suit may include challenge of new death law," is the AP report, via the Hour.
The lawsuit, in which inmates claim the state's death penalty is racially and geographically biased, is set to go to trial on Sept. 5.
Golub asked Judge Samuel Sferrazza to expand the suit so lawyers could include arguments that the new law is unfair because Connecticut's recent death penalty repeal applies only to future crimes, and not to those already sentenced to death.
The judge did not immediately rule on Golub's request.