Forecast 2014: Defense Lawyers Focus On Sentencing Issues

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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John Walkley
John Walkley

Based on recent studies, forensic evidence such as fingerprints, hair and fiber comparisons, and bite-mark analysis have been criticized as not actually scientific. Even DNA and DUI Breathalyzer results are being challenged based upon the standards and practices of examining laboratories and the methodology employed.

Freedom of Information Act inquiries are compelling the state forensics laboratories to disclose what lies beneath their analysis. This might begin to uncover "ammunition" for defense lawyers who question long-accepted "scientific" principles. What has long been accepted as science may not be science any longer.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Clearly, the ability of criminal defense lawyers to challenge mandatory minimum sentences in a courtroom is limited. But it may be time for the legislature to take a new look at crimes and the penalties they call for.

Some may say that it's unnecessary to eliminate mandatory sentences, as most cases are resolved without the need to resort to an applicable mandatory punishment. This may be correct, but it also demonstrates that the mandatory minimum is mere surplusage: just noise or leverage given to a prosecutor that is irrelevant to the process.

The bottom line is these potential sentences tie the hands of the judges and remove the discretion they otherwise possess to try to resolve a criminal case without a trial. Defendants' exposure to mandatory minimums slows down the entire process, leading to repeated pretrial court conferences and more trials than would otherwise be needed, because few are willing to settle the case pretrial.

Perhaps the legislature, in the coming year, should consider the elimination of many of these mandatory minimums. This would give more discretion to Superior Court judges, allowing them to play a more active role in the disposition of more of these cases, streamlining the criminal prosecution process and saving scarce state dollars at the same time.

I think history will show that neither justice nor mercy will be sacrificed in the process.

Death Penalty

On April 25, 2012, Connecticut repealed the death penalty for qualifying capital murder offenses. While there were a few straggling capital cases that were pending at the time of the repeal, no new sentences of death have been imposed in the Connecticut state courts since that time.

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