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The Connecticut Supreme Court Just Shut Down the State's Death Row

Now the state's 11 prisoners facing lethal injection will serve life sentences instead.

af Drew Schwartz
14 august 2015, 5:00am

Prison photo via Flickr user Christian Senger

Prison photo via Flickr user Christian Senger

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Read: How Do You Readjust to Society After Decades in Prison?

The Connecticut Supreme Court deemed the state's death penalty law unconstitutional on Thursday, blocking the execution of all 11 people on deck and ending a debate that has troubled legislators for years.

As the Hartford Courant reports, when Connecticut lawmakers abolished the death penalty in 2012, the law they drew up only banned "prospective" executions—meaning people convicted of capital crimes after the law was passed couldn't be executed, but anyone sentenced to death before April 25, 2012 would still face lethal injection. The problem with that, as the state's Division of Criminal Justice argued before the General Assembly that year, is that the law "creates two classes of people."

"One will be subject to execution and the other will not, not because of the nature of the crime or the existence or absence of any aggravating or mitigating factor, but because of the date on which the crime was committed," the DoCJ's testimony reads.

Now, thanks to the Supreme Court's 4-3 decision, that's no longer an issue, and Connecticut has become the eighth state to fully do-away with state-sanctioned killing since 2007. But not everyone is psyched about the high court's decision—and some are convinced it won't stand.

In her dissent, Justice Carmen E. Espinosa argued that the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision to outlaw the death penalty because it "no longer comports with evolving standards of decency" may leave room for legislators to reenact capital punishment in the state.

"As the majority recognizes, there is nothing that requires that the standards of decency evolve only in one direction," she wrote. If lawmakers felt a majority of Connecticut citizens supported capital punishment—as 62 percent of them still did according to a Quinnipiac poll conducted around the time the 2012 law passed—they might be able to write up a new law that permits the death penalty.

For now, though, Connecticut sits alongside 18 other states that don't offer the death penalty under any circumstances. The last one to abolish the practice was Nebraska, which put an end to capital punishment in May.