STATE v. EDUARDO SANTIAGO, SC 17413
Judicial District of Hartford
Criminal; Death Penalty; Whether Public Act Prospectively Repealing the Death Penalty Bars the State From Executing Defendants Sentenced to Death for Crimes Committed Prior to the Act’s Effective Date; Whether the Act’s Effective Date Provision is Unconstitutional and, If So, Whether the Entire Act is Invalid. The defendant was convicted of capital felony and sentenced to death in connection with a murder-for-hire scheme that resulted in the death of Joseph Niwinski in December 2000. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the defendant’s convictions but reversed the judgment insofar as it imposed a sentence of death and remanded the case for a new penalty phase hearing. See State v. Santiago, 305 Conn. 101 (2012). Before that decision was announced, the legislature enacted Public Acts 2012, No. 12-5 (act), which prospectively repeals the death penalty for crimes committed on or after the date of its passage, April 25, 2012. The act was made expressly subject to the state’s two savings statutes, General Statutes § 1-1 (t) and General Statutes § 54-194. Pursuant to those statutes, when a defendant is convicted of violating a criminal statute that is later amended or repealed, the defendant remains liable under the version of the statute existing at the time of the commission of the crime. Before a new penalty hearing could take place, the Supreme Court granted the defendant’s motion requesting that it consider his claim that the act bars the imposition of the death penalty in his case. Initially, contending that the act’s passage implicates important constitutional principles because it reflects the legislature’s judgment that the death penalty is no longer consistent with standards of decency in Connecticut, the defendant maintains that his claim is not subject to ordinary retroactivity analysis. Next, the defendant contends that his death sentence would violate General Statutes § 53a-46b (b) (1), which provides that the Supreme Court shall affirm a death sentence unless it determines that it was “the product of passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor,” because it would be based on the arbitrary factor that he committed the crime prior to the effective date of the act. He also asserts several constitutional claims. He argues that the legislature’s repeal of the death penalty shows that society has determined that capital punishment no longer serves a legitimate penological objective and that, under such circumstances, executing him would constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the eighth amendment of the federal constitution. He also contends that, in the absence of any legitimate penological purpose, the act’s effective date provision violates the equal protection clause of the federal constitution because it singles out a small group of offenders for the uniquely harsh penalty of death while dictating a life sentence for other similarly-situated offenders. Additionally, he claims that the effective date provision violates the constitutional prohibitions against ex post facto laws and bills of attainder. Finally, he argues that, if the effective date provision is found to be unconstitutional, it should be severed from the act. In response to that argument, the state contends that the legislature did not intend for the effective date provision to be severable from the remainder of the act and, thus, if that provision is found to be unconstitutional, the act must be stricken in its entirety.