For those interested, I promised to answer this question over the weekend. Here’s the answer: It got screwed.
The bill was HB 7365 – An Act Concerning the Procedure in a Capital Felony Trial. The provisions were that if a death penalty jury was deadlocked on the punishment to be imposed, the jury would be discharged and the judge would impose LWOP. It was voted out of the Judiciary Committee and then things started going downhill. Among other things, I wanted to point out this amendment that was proposed:
(a) any person convicted of a capital felony and sentenced to death who takes a direct appeal of such conviction to the Supreme Court shall file such appeal not later than twenty-one days after imposition of sentence.
(b) The defendant’s briefs and the state’s briefs shall be filed in accordance with a schedule that will ensure that all briefs are filed not later than four months after the date of the imposition of sentence.
(c) The Supreme Court shall schedule oral argument not later than six months after the date of the imposition of sentence.
This amendment called for oral argument in a death penalty case within six months of the imposition of the sentence. This would have been a logistical nightmare. I’m not sure transcripts would be ready in 6 months, let alone the four month limit for filing the briefs.
It also affected the timeline for filing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus:
(a) An application for a writ of habeas corpus challenging a capital felony conviction or the imposition of a sentence of death shall be brought not later than one hundred eighty days after the date of the imposition of such sentence. Such application shall fully plead all cognizable claims that the defendant’s conviction or sentence was entered in violation of the Constitution or laws of the state or the Constitution of the United States.
(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a) of this section, the filing of a subsequent application for a writ of habeas corpus shall not be barred if (1) the facts underlying the claim were unknown to the defendant or the defendant’s attorney and could not have been ascertained by the exercise of due diligence prior to the filing of the earlier application, and (2) the facts underlying the claim, if proven and viewed in light of the evidence as a whole, would have reasonably led the original trier of fact to have either found the defendant not guilty or not sentence the defendant to death. The court shall hold a hearing on such subsequent application not later than one hundred eighty days after the filing of such application.
Anyone that practices Habeas law will tell you that filing an Amended Petition in a regular felony trial case within six months is a tall order, let alone a capital felony trial case. Keep in mind that the Habeas and direct appeal would proceed simultaneously under the provisions of this amendment.
There needs to be serious debate in the legislature about the death penalty. The last time there was serious debate, the abolition of the death penalty received 60 votes. The debate was shelved pending the execution of Michael Ross, because legislators felt it was an inappropriate time. Since then, it has not been revived. Aside from geographical disparities in the imposition of the death penalty, there are racial disparities as well, which need to be evaluated and discussed. With an election year next year, there’s little hope of serious debate any time soon.