Monday, November 09, 2015

Crime And Punishment In Reformist Connecticut

In 2012, Connecticut’s Democrat dominated General Assembly abolished capital punishment but carved out an exception for convicted murderers awaiting the death penalty on death row. The carve-out for the eleven death row prisoners was a blatant violation of what used to be called the natural law, a series of political, philosophical and penological assumptions that informs all laws, statutory and constitutional.

The abolition should have been applied retroactively to Connecticut prisoners awaiting death, for reasons lucidly stated by Samuel Johnson when he was reporting on debates in the House of Commons. The Nulla poena sine lege doctrine -- “where there is no law, there is no transgression” – Mr. Johnson wrote, “is a maxim not only established by universal consent, but in itself evident and undeniable; and it is, Sir, surely no less certain that where there is no transgression, there can be no punishment.” By abolishing the death penalty yet leaving the penalty in force for those convicted of capital murder then awaiting punishment on Connecticut’s death row, the General Assembly and Mr. Malloy were arranging to execute prisoners in the absence of a law prescribing the death penalty for capital felony. But – where there is no law, there can be no punishment. The death penalty abolition law and the carve-out established by the General Assembly and signed by Mr. Malloy, a former repentant prosecutor, was worse than unconstitutional; it was arbitrary, patently unjust and a clear violation of the Natural Law.

The carve-out, however, was POLITICALLY necessary. The abolition bill was signed into law only five years after a horrific murder in Cheshire, and wounds were still bleeding. Time, the old adage has it, heals all wounds. In the fullness of time – only five years after two parolees had invaded Dr. William Petit’s home, beat the doctor senseless with a baseball bat, forced his wife to withdraw money from a bank account, raped and murdered both his wife and one of his younger daughters and murdered three women by setting fire to the house – the General Assembly and Mr. Malloy at long last had achieved their purpose. After the Cheshire mass murder, gun sales spiked in Connecticut. If it takes more than twenty minutes for police to arrive after you’ve called them,”
 one gun purchaser told me, You have to depend on yourself.

In due course, the Connecticut Supreme Court vacated the death penalty for the eleven death row inmates – for the wrong reason. The court did not argue that it was a violation of justice itself to execute a capital felon in the absence of a law prescribing the death penalty for felony murder; instead, adopting a sociological pose, the court arbitrarily ruled that “the death penalty was an outdated tool of justice at odds with today’s societal values," a judgement correctly characterized by Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers as “a house of cards, falling under the slightest breath of scrutiny.”

Those politicians favoring abolition of the death penalty most vigorously – co-chairs of the state’s judiciary committee Michael Lawlor, now Mr. Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, and Andrew McDonald, recently appointed to Connecticut’s Supreme Court by Mr. Malloy – argued implausibly that the death penalty had no deterrent value.  If the prospect of death – which clears the mind wonderfully, Dr. Johnson said – is not a deterrent, then NO PUNISHMENT may be regarded as a deterrent; such is the ruling in the court of common sense. Actually, it was the failure to impose capital punishment, a feature designed into Connecticut’s rococo death penalty process, that made deterrence less effective. Mr. McDonald has yet to be asked why he did not recuse himself in the death penalty abolition decision.

Death penalty abolition is only one of the carrots in Mr. Malloy’s penological reform quiver. Mr. Lawlor, also a prosecutor, has constructed a Rube Goldberg penological machine that permits violent criminals such as rapists to earn get-out-of-jail-early credits while in prison. One of his students, a card-carrying member of a violent gang who burned his mattress while in jail, served as a drug mule and assaulted guards and other prisoners, Frankie “The Razor” Resto,  acquired an illegal weapon on release – not, one may be sure, at a gun show --  waltzed into an EZMart store in Meriden, and shot and murdered the co-owner of the store AFTER the victim had obligingly turned over his cash register receipts to Mr. Razor. The vicious murderer plea bargained his sentence and, in any case, presently has nothing to fear from Connecticut’s repealed capital punishment law – or, for that matter, from Mr. Malloy’s penological reforms, which are all carrots and no stick. Michelle Cruz, Connecticut's VictimsAdvocate at the time, who performed her duties much too conscientiously, was effectively replaced by pro-abolition activist Malloy and his factotums.

Mr. Malloy’s latest attempt to repeal reality by redefining settled concepts involves proposed legislation that would redefine the parameters of juvenile behavior, and never mind that including convicted criminals up to age 24 in the juvenile law bucket is itself a juvenile attempt to change reality through magic thinking – which has little to do with genuine penological reform. A more comprehensive penological reform would abolish ALL punishments on the grounds that only therapeutic forgiveness deters crime. The Malloy administration is not there yet.
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