Statev.Courchesne

Connecticut Superior Court, Judicial District of Waterbury at WaterburySep 4, 2003
2003 Ct. Sup. 10356 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2003)

No. CR 98 0273002

September 4, 2003


MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO PRECLUDE THE PENALTY HEARING BECAUSE THE DEFENDANT CANNOT BE CONSTITUTIONALLY SENTENCED TO DEATH UNDER THE EXISTING STATUTORY SCHEME

D'ADDABBO, JUDGE.

The defendant, Robert Courchesne, requests, by motion dated June 5, 2003, that the court enter an order precluding the penalty hearing because he cannot be constitutionally sentenced to death under the existing statutory scheme. The defendant argues that General Statutes § 53a-46a is unconstitutional. Many of the basis for his claims have been addressed by the Connecticut Supreme Court in State v. Reynolds, 263 Conn. 1, 824 A.2d 611 (2003); State v. Breton, 264 Conn. 327, 824 A.2d 778 (2003) and State v. Cobb, 251 Conn. 285, 743 A.2d 1 (1999) This court also considered similar claims presented by the defendant in his Motion to Impose Life Sentence Because § 53a-46a is Unconstitutional, dated October 15, 2001 and denied by the court in a memorandum of decision dated November 15, 2001.

I.

The defendant argues that since General Statutes § 53a-46a (e), (f) and (j), as it relates to the weighing, does not establish a defined burden of proof the statute is unconstitutional. The defendant argues that the state should be required to establish that the aggravating factor (if established) outweighs any proven mitigating factor by a standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. In 1995, the legislature amended § 53a-46a and adopted a weighing scheme for all capital sentencing cases. Public Acts 1995, No. 95-19. Under the amended statute, the jury must first determine whether the state has proved the existence of an aggravating factor. General Statutes § 53a-46a (c). If an aggravating factor is established, the jury must next determine the existence of any mitigating factor (s). General Statutes § 53a-46a (d). If the jury finds the existence of both, it must determine if the proven aggravating factor outweighs the proven mitigating factor. General Statutes §§ 53a-46a (e) and (f). The defendant argues General Statutes § 53a-46a violates the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments because the statute does not establish the burden of proof upon the state. The United States Supreme Court has consistently upheld capital punishment statutes that allow a jury to consider both aggravating and mitigating factors. "[I]n order to meet the requirement of the [e]ighth and [f]ourteenth [a]mendments, a capital-sentencing system must allow the sentencing authority to consider mitigating circumstances." Jurek v. Texas, 428 U.S. 262, 96 S.Ct. 2950, 49 L.Ed.2d 929 (1976). Recent Connecticut Supreme Court decisions have upheld the constitutionality of General Statutes § 53a-46a. See State v. Reynolds, 264 Conn. 1, 63, 824 A.2d 611 (2003). ("[I]n their overall configuration, our death penalty statutes facially satisfy the constitutional requirements of the eighth and fourteenth amendments to the United States constitution").

This court is aware that the claims presented by the defendant, that being the lack of standard of proof, in the statute, is presently before the Connecticut Supreme Court. Although the claim is presented to the court in conjunction with a requested jury instruction, it is fundamentally the same claim that is in the motion before this court. However, as the case law and statutory law exist at this time, the established procedure for a weighing determination is constitutional. Therefore, for these reasons, the defendant's motion to preclude the penalty hearing on this basis is denied.

State v. Rizzo, Docket No. 97 262883, appeal pending, S.C. 16197; State v. Colon, Docket No. 98 270986, appeal pending, S.C. 15446.

II

The defendant next argues that General Statutes § 53a-46a's requirement that the defendant prove that the mitigating factors are mitigating in nature by a preponderance of the evidence creates a constitutionally intolerable risk that when weighing the aggravating and mitigating factors, jurors will not include mitigating factors which they believe are of some mitigating value.

The United States Supreme Court has consistently upheld capital punishment statutes that allow a jury to consider both aggravating and mitigating factors. Recent Connecticut Supreme Court decisions have upheld the constitutionality of General Statutes § 53a-46a. See State v. Reynolds, 264 Conn. 1, 63, 824 A.2d 611 (2003) ("[I]n their overall configuration, our death penalty statutes facially satisfy the constitutional requirements of the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution").

As the case law and statutory laws exist at this time, the established procedures for weighing determination is constitutional. Therefore, for these reasons, the defendant's motion to preclude the penalty hearing on this basis is denied.

III

The defendant argues that General Statutes § 53a-46a's mitigating in nature requirement is constitutionally infirm because it allows the jury to refuse to consider constitutionally relevant mitigating evidence. There is nothing in the statutory language or in federal or state case law interpreting the language as to lead to the conclusion that the jury will refuse to consider mitigating evidence. "In the absence of a showing that the jury failed or declined to follow the court's instructions, we presume that it heeded them." State v. Reynolds, supra, 264 Conn. 130. The defendant's motion to preclude the penalty hearing on this basis is denied.

IV

The defendant argues that the General Statutes § 53a-46a requirement that jurors determine whether mitigating factors are mitigating in nature by considering all of the facts and circumstances of the case is constitutionally infirm because there is a reasonable possibility that jurors will conclude that there must be a nexus between the mitigating evidence and the offense. He further argues that the requirement is infirm because it directs jurors to view mitigating evidence through the prism of the facts and circumstances of the case. "[T]he capital sentencer . . . is aware that its task [is] the serious one of determining whether a specific human being should die at the hands of the [s]tate . . . To ensure that the jury is fully aware of its determinative role in our capital sentencing process . . . [i]t is imperative . . . that the jury instructions in a capital case clearly and unequivocally explain to the jury that it is solely responsible for determining whether the defendant will receive the death penalty or, instead, a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Reynolds, supra, 264 Conn. 123-25. This court finds that the statute clearly requires jurors to render a reasoned moral judgment on whether mitigation has been established in light of all relevant facts and circumstances. Any possible ambiguity with respect to this statutory language can be addressed by the court's instructions to the jury. The defendant's motion to preclude the penalty hearing on this basis is denied.

V

The defendant argues that the General Statutes § 53a-46a requirement that jurors determine whether the defendant's mitigating factors are mitigating in nature considering all of the facts and circumstances of the case, creates a constitutionally intolerable risk that the defendant's mitigation will be put out of the effective reach of the jury. This argument was considered and rejected in State v. Reynolds, supra, 264 Conn. 136, State v. Cobb, supra, 251 Conn. 482-83, and State v. Ross, 230 Conn. 183, 284, 646 A.2d 1318 (1994). The defendant has not presented any reason for this court to depart from the rulings in these cases. The defendant's motion to preclude the penalty hearing on this basis is denied.

VI

The defendant argues that General Statutes § 53a-46a violates the sixth, eighth and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution and article first, §§ 8 and 9 of the Connecticut Constitution because it gives prosecutors unfettered and standardless discretion to seek or decline to seek a death sentence. The defendant's argument is unpersuasive as "[the United States Supreme Court's] decisions [regarding its eighth amendment jurisprudence] . . . have identified a constitutionally permissible range of discretion in imposing the death penalty." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Ross, 230 Conn. 183, 235, 646 A.2d 1318 (1994). "In their overall configuration, our death penalty statutes facially satisfy the constitutional requirements of the eighth and fourteenth amendments to the United States constitution. The multitiered pyramid meets the prerequisite of consistency and reliability by guiding the capital sentencer's discretion with clear and objective standards that narrow the class of defendants eligible for the death penalty and by providing a meaningful basis for distinguishing between those cases in which the death penalty is imposed and those in which it is not." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Reynolds, supra., 264 Conn. 63. This Court's November 27, 2001 memorandum of decision re: Amended Motion To Dismiss The Aggravating Factor And To Impose A Life Sentence Because There Is Insufficient Evidence To Justify Holding A Penalty Hearing, specifically section I is incorporated by reference and made part of this decision. The court therefore finds that General Statutes § 53a-46a does not violate the sixth, eighth and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution or article first §§ 8 and 9 of the Connecticut constitution because there is a meaningful basis for determining when the death penalty is imposed and when it is not. The defendant's motion to preclude a penalty hearing on this basis is denied.

VII

The defendant argues that General Statutes § 53a-46a is unconstitutional because it fails to charge individual humans with the responsibility of deciding whether a fellow human must be sentenced to death and of returning a verdict that sentences a person to death. The defendant's claim has been considered and rejected in several Connecticut Supreme Court decisions, most recently in State v. Reynolds, supra, 264 Conn. 1. In Reynolds, the court held that "[i]t is a well established principle of death penalty jurisprudence that the capital sentencer must make a reasoned moral and individualized determination based on the defendant's background, character and crime that death is the appropriate punishment." Id., 121-22.

Under Connecticut's capital sentencing scheme, "[t]he sentencer makes the required moral and individualized determination . . . because it must consider a nonexclusive list of mitigating factors as well as a catchall category consisting of any other mitigating factor concerning the defendant's character, background and history, or the nature and circumstances of the crime . . . The ability to consider an unrestricted set of mitigating factors satisfies federal constitutional requirements for a moral and individualized decision . . . Furthermore, it is evident that the capital sentencer . . . is aware that its task [is] the serious one of determining whether a specific human being should die at the hands of the State." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 123-24. "To ensure that the jury is fully aware of its determinative role in our capital sentencing process . . . [i]t is imperative . . . that the jury instructions in a capital case clearly and unequivocally explain to the jury that it is solely responsible for determining whether the defendant will receive the death penalty or, instead, a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 124-25. For the reasons stated in Reynolds, General Statutes § 53a-46a is not unconstitutional because of its failure to charge individual persons with sentencing authority. The defendant's motion to preclude the penalty hearing on this basis is denied.

VIII

The defendant argues that General Statutes § 53a-46a is unconstitutional because it permits imposition of a death sentence without requiring jurors to determine that the ultimate sanction of death is warranted by the facts of the case. This argument is unpersuasive because the imposition of a death sentence occurs once the sentencer has made a "full, individualized consideration as to whether death is the appropriate penalty for each defendant." State v. Ross, supra, 230 Conn. 241. The defendant's motion to preclude the penalty hearing on this basis is denied.

IX

The defendant argues that General Statutes § 53a-46a is unconstitutional because it fails to define the terms "mitigating in nature, considering all the facts and circumstances of the case" and this allows defendants to be sentenced to death for arbitrary and capricious reasons, including racial discrimination, socio-economic prejudice, public outrage and physical unattractiveness. The defendant further argues that the statute is unconstitutional because jurors are given unfettered discretion to reject in one case a factor that has been recognized as mitigating in another case. The defendant motion to preclude the penalty hearing on this basis is denied.

X

The defendant argues that General Statutes § 53a-46a is unconstitutional because it gives the defendant the burden of proving both that a mitigating factor exists in fact and that the factor is mitigating in nature considering all of the facts and circumstances of the case. He argues that this burden erroneously allocates the risk of error and impermissibly allows the death penalty to be imposed where there are factors calling for a less severe sentence or where there is a substantial or reasonable doubt as to the appropriateness of a death sentence. This claim has been previously rejected in State v. Cobb, supra, 251 Conn. 460, State v. Ross, supra, 230 Conn. 241 and Walton v. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639, 649, 110 S.Ct. 3047, 111 L.Ed.2d 511, rehearing denied, 497 U.S. 1050, 111 S.Ct. 14, 111 L.Ed.2d 828 (1990). Therefore, the defendant's motion to preclude the penalty hearing on this basis is denied.

XI

The defendant argues that General Statutes § 53a-46a is unconstitutional because it contains a presumption of death rather than a presumption of life. This claim has been recently addressed in State v. Breton, 264 Conn. 327, 417, 824 A.2d 778 (2003). "[T]here is no unconstitutional presumption of death as long as the requirements of individualized sentencing are satisfied in death penalty cases by allowing the sentencer to consider all relevant mitigating evidence Our statute allows such consideration." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Breton, supra, 264 Conn. 417 n. 56. The defendant's motion to preclude the penalty hearing on this basis is denied.

XII

The defendant argues that state executions violate the Connecticut constitution and the United States Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. This argument has specifically been rejected in State v. Ross, supra, 230 Conn. 245-52, and was recently reaffirmed in State v. Reynolds, supra, 264 Conn. 236. The defendant's motion to preclude the penalty hearing on this basis is denied.

XIII

The defendant argues that race has an arbitrary, capricious, impermissibly discriminatory and disproportionate effect on capital sentencing in Connecticut in violation of the eighth and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution, article first §§ 8, 9 and 20 of the constitution of Connecticut and General Statutes § 53a-46b (b)(1). This issue has not yet been addressed by the Connecticut appellate courts, however, the Connecticut Supreme Court recently held that the Connecticut "death penalty statutes facially satisfy the constitutional requirements of the eighth and fourteenth amendments to the United States constitution." State v. Reynolds, supra, 264 Conn. 63. The defendant has failed to show how the Connecticut death penalty statute is affected by racial bias. The defendant's motion to preclude the penalty hearing on this basis is denied.

CONCLUSION

For the above-mentioned reasons, the defendant's motion to preclude the penalty hearing because the defendant cannot be constitutionally sentenced to death under the existing statutory scheme is denied.

So ordered.

Dated at Waterbury, Connecticut this 4th day of September 2003.

FRANK M. D'ADDABBO, JR.