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Cost Argument Rejected in Conn. Capital Trial

When the question the jury is supposed to be deciding is clearly against your client, what do you do?  Try to get them to decide some other question? 

In Connecticut, the law (ยง53a-46a(e)) says the jury is supposed to decide "whether any aggravating factor or factors outweigh any mitigating factor or factors..." In the case of triple murderer Steven Hayes, the answer to that question is quite obviously "yes."  So his lawyers want to argue about other things, such as the cost of the death penalty.  The trial judge rejected that argument today.

Jason Vallee reports for the Record-Journal:

NEW HAVEN - A Superior Court judge Thursday released a decision denying defense attorneys for convicted triple murderer Steven Hayes the right to use cost analysis during the trial.

Judge Jon C. Blue said in the motion that cost-benefit analysis is a debate better suited for legislature and could not be used as a mitigating factor.

"Although a defendant fighting for his life should be given great latitude in presenting mitigating evidence, the evidence offered here is not legally admissible," Blue said.

A motion filed last week by Public Defender Thomas Ullmann stated that he planned to use experts that would prove given Hayes life expectancy of 23 years, it would be cheaper to keep him in prison than to sentence him to death.

A second motion was filed by New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington arguing the motion did not meet the conditions to be considered a mitigating factor.

Hayes was convicted on Oct. 5 of 16 counts in the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters during a 2007 Cheshire home invasion. The conviction included guilty verdicts to six counts of capital felony which carry a penalty of life without the possibility of release or death.

A penalty phase trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 18.


Missouri has de facto recognized cost as a factor in sentencings, which makes this ruling interesting. (I have all the cites in my blog on this topic at http://www.kentmortimore.com/archives/12.) The CT judge nailed the argument: This is a legislative matter and completely inappropriate for either a judge or jury in sentencing.

Understanding why cost ought not to be a permissible factor for the jury to consider at sentencing requires but one question: If executing convicts were cheaper than imprisoning them, would any sensate person believe it proper for the state's attorney to urge the jury to shuffle the defendant off to the death chamber in order to save the bucks?

Neither a judge nor a jury should be in the business apportioning the public fisc.

That is a matter for the voters to decide in a representative democracy.

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