Good Friday in Connecticut

Yes, it is Good Friday everywhere, but it is particularly sweet in Connecticut this year. Yesterday, the state Senate passed a bill to repeal the death penalty (read coverage here). The Senate was the largest barrier, but after a lengthy debate the bill passed 20-16, largely along party lines. The bill should pass the state’s House of Representatives without too much trouble and Governor Malloy has promised to sign it.

It is a particularly difficult time to pass the bill. The single story that has dominated local media in the last few years focused on a home invasion killing in Cheshire, CT (two men sexually assaulted and murdered a woman and her two daughters by dousing the house with gasoline; the husband/father had been beaten and tied in the basement). The killers were found guilty and given the death penalty. Hard to make a case for repeal in this environment, particularly when public opinion supports the death penalty (and has only grown stronger in its support overtime). Moreover, Connecticut does not use the death penalty as cavalierly as most states (while there are 11 people on death row, only one has been executed since 1960).

Yet, state legislators did something that is rare: following a lengthy, serious,and public debate, they took a principled stand in the face of public opinion.

Sometimes liberty wins, even in a state like Connecticut that embraces the activist state.

Good Friday!

6 thoughts on “Good Friday in Connecticut

  1. I’d be interested in learning why you think repeal of the death penalty is a victory for liberty? Certainly those men responsible for the home invasion you reference forfeited both their rights to liberty and to life.

    1. I am in full agreement with respect to the outcome of the case you cite. There was strong forensic evidence and admissions of guilt. But I would not want to generalize from that case. If we could assume (1) the state acts with complete information, and (2) the state acts without ulterior motives, then there would be few concerns. Indeed, if we could accept these assumptions, we might accept a dramatic expansion of state authority more generally. Of course, from the most mundane acts (local zoning) to the most consequential (committing forces to war), the empirical record provides little reassurance. Uninformed decisions, faulty theoretical models, and public choice problems are ubiquitous. In the case of capital punishment, there is strong empirical evidence that many who have been sentenced to death have not been guilty (the track record varies by jurisdiction and over time). The justice system often gets it right; it often does not. There will always be Type I and Type II errors. The problem with the death penalty is that once it is administered, there is no possibility for correcting for error. Those who are falsely accused and convicted (perhaps a product of information scarcity, perhaps a product of ulterior motives) have no redress.

      We likely agree that there is no greater assault on liberty than the state depriving one of one’s life as a product of error or malevolence. There is no reason to believe, given the empirical record, that these problems can be fully vanquished. Hence, incapacitation via incarceration at least minimizes the damage and provides the opportunity for correcting errors. To the extent that one innocent person is not unjustly deprived of his or her life at the hands of a careless or incompetent state, I would consider this a victory for liberty.

      I am certain some readers have reflected on this issue and arrived at very different conclusions. I would like to hear opposing arguments.

      1. Thank you for your reply to my comment. I’ve got to offer a quick reply now, but perhaps can respond more fully later.

        Yes, mistakes can be made in our justice system, despite protections, juries of peers, and perhaps biases toward the accused with regard to the admission of evidence. And, we cannot give someone their life back, just as we cannot give someone back the years of freedom they lose if mistakes lead unjustly to long or life sentences.

        But don’t we fail to provide justice if we don’t deprive a cold-blooded killer of his life? Perhaps justice is more often serve, despite errors, in a system where the penalty fits the crime.

        Also, since mistakes are inevitable, would you prohibit the use of lethal force in self-defense? The armed intruder who seems threatening to your family may only be there to steal some food.

  2. You are totally correct in your statement,”that there is no greater assault on liberty than the state depriving one of ones life”. How many abortions has the state of Connecticut performed , as opposed to executions, ? I always marvel at the distinction by some people.

    1. It is an interesting distinction. I have no problem with a consistent pro-life perspective that abhors execution, abortion, infanticide, and wars fought on anything other than defensive grounds. I do marvel at the ability of some to segregate these issues.

  3. Interesting that there are 11 people on death row in CT and only 1 has been executed since 1960. Sounds to me as if the death penalty had already been abolished, at least in practice, in the State.

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