CT public defenders not immune to cuts either

Not much to say here, since this is just the Gov’s proposed budget [pdf], but we’d be taking hits too (and might end up closing/merging two courthouses). I want to know what “remove or limit inflation” means. Page 719 onwards.

Down the judicial rabbit hole

CT is in the midst of judicial renominations, as I wrote about recently. So judges naturally are the center of attention, both in the legislature and the media. But perhaps no judge in recent months has received the scrutiny that Judge Curtissa Cofield, who is not up for renomination, has.

Judge Cofield was arrested several months ago for driving while intoxicated and hitting a parked cruiser. As if that wasn’t enough, stories started to circulate in the media that Judge Cofield had gone on a rant while being booked, using racial slurs and asserting her status as a judge.

Many articles were written, pillorying her and calling for her resignation. Inexcusable, her behavior was called. A stain on the judicial system, the incident was declared. There were a few articles written about her tremendous work in Hartford’s Community Court, but those were few and far between.

Just last week, the police department released portions of the booking video, which you can view below.

The time for abolition has come

The death penalty evokes strong emotions in those for and against it. The arguments have been thoroughly debated: justice, vengeance, retribution, eye-for-an-eye, we’re better than that, the state should not be in the killing business, it’s inhuman, it’s cruel and unusual, we’re the only civilized country, it is not deterrent, it doesn’t achieve anything, it keeps wounds open.

But we are living in very difficult times. The economy is performing at its worst level in decades – and some might say that this recession is the worst of a lifetime. The costs are piling up and the revenue stream is drying up. The state is facing a budget deficit of close to $1bn this year and over $8bn for the next two years. That’s an astronomical sum. And while Gov. Rell says that cuts are coming, and while taxpayers suggest ways to cut costs, and while legislators debate decriminalizing less than an ounce of marijuana, I have yet to see anyone opine that we should cut one expense in the judicial system: abolish the death penalty.

Man-Min sentences for juves: no (constitutional) problem

It was a longshot, but by definition, it means that it was worth a shot. The CT Supreme Court recently held in State v. Carrasquillo that mandatory-minimum sentences for juvenile offenders don’t violate the Eight Amendment to the Constitution. This properly should be considered a companion case to the “Life without parole is not cruel and unusual” decision from a few months ago (my post on that decision here).

Like the previous case, the defendant in this case relies heavily on Roper v. Simmons. The defendant argued that juvenile possess characteristics different from adults that make the application of a mandatory-minimum sentence unconstitutional. The defendant did not argue that juveniles cannot be sentenced to 30, 40 or even 50 years in prison, but that a sentencing scheme that deprives a judge the ability to take into consideration the mental development of a teen and sentence less than 25 years is cruel and unusual punishment.

Once again, the court relies on a tested phrase to justify its decision: death is different. Roper spoke only to death, not to any other punishment and thus is inapplicable.

This, in my opinion, is too literal a reading of Roper. While Roper may have dealt only with the death penalty, the studies cited in Roper should have some applicability in the general field of juvenile punishment.

The FATWOD has a new ally: the crappy economy

Folks, don’t ever again say I don’t call things. I called this.

Finally, it seems that legislators might be getting “smart” on drugs and drug crimes. And no, the impetus isn’t a wake up call on the inherent unfairness of the drug crimes and the racially disproportionate impact they have. It’s the economy, stupid.

Sen. Toni Harp, chairwoman of the powerful appropriations committee, and Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney hope economics will succeed where other arguments have failed in convincing their colleagues that the costs of prosecuting and punishing pot smokers is an expense Connecticut can no longer afford.

“We’ve got to take a strong look at what we want to pay for as a state,” said Harp, D- New Haven, who with Looney is co-sponsoring a bill that would punish low-level marijuana users with a fine, not a criminal charge.

“To waste our resources on this small problem is not a good use of the people’s money.”

Now, they’re not going as far as I would go, so simmer down (and you know who you are). The proposed bill would decriminalize possession of less than one ounce of marijuana – essentially what Massachussetts did this past November. People found using that small an amount would be fined: akin to a parking ticket.

Careful what you wish for

Someone needs to explain to me why this case ever made it to SCOTUS. Actually, I have several questions:

  1. What are you asking for, exactly?
  2. Is this a case of getting too greedy or too literal?
  3. Did anyone consider the ramifications of an unfavorable decision in this case? (Let me spell it out for you: it could spell complete evisceration of a well-established and solidly pro-defense line of cases starting with Santobello)
  4. How do you get selected to argue in front of SCOTUS and then produce a complete clunker [pdf] (and not just one counsel – both!)?
  5. Does anyone think either lawyer has any clue as to what is being asked of them?

I fear that Puckett might win the battle, but lose the war. That would be bad news for all of us.

Scrutinizing the scrutiny

Judicial reconfirmations in Connecticut have usually been a low-key affair, so it was newsworthy last week when an all out battle erupted on the floor of the Senate during the reconfirmation of Judge Patricia Swords.

Judge Swords, just finishing up her first 8 year term a judge of the Superior Court, made it through the Judiciary Committee by a margin of 4 votes, despite the testimony [pdf] of a prominent criminal defense attorney regarding her behavior in a murder case where she declined to grant a continuance when the lead counsel had suffered a soon to be fatal brain injury just two days prior to the start of trial. Her reconfirmation made it through the House of Representatives pretty easily (100-41 or so), but stalled in the Senate, where the votes were pretty evenly decided.

After a vigorous debate on the floor of the Senate, during which Senators questioned the anonymous comments submitted by the defense bar opposing her reconfirmation (one of them likened these comments to blog posts – ha!) and used misinformed logic such as the number of decisions upheld on appeal. If I remember correctly, one of the Senators, in her defense, asked something along the lines of whether we should…well…judge a judge based on demeanor or accuracy in the law.

Anyone who has practiced law should know that not everything a judge does on the bench or behind the scenes that questions their impartiality in a case is appealable.

The judge was eventually confirmed by a vote of 19-18, the tiebreaking vote being cast by the Lt. Governor. But this reconfirmation battle raised some interesting questions, and rightly so.