Excessive Sentencing Project - Connecticut

Policies and rulings on lengthy imprisonment terms in Connecticut.

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  • Connecticut allows for parole.
  • Connecticut allows for mandatory LWOP and JLWOP. See Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann.§ 53a-53a.
  • Juveniles can be transferred to adult court at age 14.
State Constitution

The Connecticut Supreme Court has interpreted the Connecticut Constitution’s due process clauses to prohibit cruel and unusual punishment. These clauses are as follows:

Conn. Const. Art. I., Sec. 1 (2011)

Sec. 1 That the great and essential principles of liberty and free government may be recognized and established, WE DECLARE: (Equality of rights.)

Sec. 1. All men when they form a social compact, are equal in rights; and no man or set of men are entitled to exclusive public emoluments or privileges from the community.

Conn. Const. Art. I., Sec. 8 (2011)

Sec. 8 (Rights of accused in criminal prosecutions. What cases bailable. Speedy trial. Due process. Excessive bail or fines. Presentment of grand jury, when necessary.)

Sec. 8. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall have a right to be heard by himself and by counsel; to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted by the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process to obtain witnesses in his behalf; to be released on bail upon sufficient security, except in capital offenses, where the proof is evident or the presumption great; and in all prosecutions by indictment or information, to a speedy, public trial by an impartial jury. No person shall be compelled to give evidence against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall excessive bail be required nor excessive fines imposed. No person shall be held to answer for any crime, punishable by death or life imprisonment, unless on a presentment or an indictment of a grand jury, except in the armed forces, or in the militia when in actual service in time of war or public danger.

Conn. Const. Art. I., Sec. 9 (2011)

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Sec. 9 (Right of personal liberty.)

Sec. 9. No person shall be arrested, detained or punished, except in cases clearly warranted by law.

NOTE:  While the Connecticut Supreme Court has not yet found the due process clauses of the Connecticut Constitution to be broader than the Eighth Amendment, it has reserved the right to adopt a broader interpretation as the needs and expectations of Connecticut citizens change.

Sentencing Statutes
  • Sentencing Guidelines System – Connecticut does not have sentencing guidelines
  • Habitual Offender Statutes – 
    • Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-40 (2012) -- Sec. 53a-40. Persistent offenders: Definitions; defense; authorized sentences; procedure.
    • Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-40d (2012) -- Sec. 53a-40d. Persistent offenders of crimes involving assault, stalking, trespass, threatening, harassment, criminal violation of a protective order or criminal violation of a restraining order. Authorized sentences.
Case Law

General 

Unless clearly invalid, a statute is presumed to be constitutional. State v. Kyles, 169 Conn. 438, 442 (Conn. 1975) (citing Schwartz v. Kelly, 140 Conn. 176, 179 (Conn. 1953)).

State Constitution & Proportionality 

The due process clauses of the Connecticut Constitution (Sections 1, 8, and 9) impliedly prohibit cruel and unusual punishments. State v. Webb, 238 Conn. 389, 402 (Conn. 1996) (citing State v. Ross, 230 Conn. 183, 245-47 (Conn. 1994)); State v. Santiago, 305 Conn. 101, 249-253 (Conn. 2012); State v. Reynolds, 824 A.2d 611, 757 (Conn. 2003).

In some instances, Connecticut courts have found that the state constitution affords more protection than its federal counterpart. SeeState v. Geisler, 222 Conn. 672, 684-685 (Conn. 1992); State v. Rizzo, 303 Conn. 71, 136 (Conn. 2011).

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The Supreme Court of Connecticut considers the changing “needs and expectations” of the citizens of Connecticut as it interprets the state constitution over time. State v. Webb, 238 Conn. 389, 410-411 (Conn. 1996). Furthermore, the Connecticut Constitution “should not be interpreted too narrowly or too literally so that it fails to have contemporary effectiveness” for all citizens of Connecticut. Id. (citing State v. Dukes, 209 Conn. 98, 115 (Conn. 1988)).

When advocating for a new interpretation of the Connecticut Constitution, a party should bring forth persuasive evidence showing the changing needs and expectations of citizens and also showing an impairment of “the contemporary effectiveness” of the Connecticut Constitution. State v. Webb, 238 Conn. 389, 411 (Conn. 1996).

When interpreting the state constitution, the court considers the following six factors: (1) the text of the constitutional provisions; (2) related Connecticut precedents; (3) persuasive federal precedents; (4) persuasive precedents of other state courts; (5) historical insights into the intent of our constitutional forebears; and (6) contemporary understandings of applicable economic and sociological norms. State v. Geisler, 222 Conn. 672, 684-685 (Conn. 1992); State v. Santiago, 305 Conn. 101, 249-253 (Conn. 2012); State v. Webb, 238 Conn. 389, 402 (Conn. 1996); State v. Ross, 230 Conn. 183, 249 (Conn. 1994).

Not every factor will be relevant in all cases. State v. Santiago, 305 Conn. 101, 249-253 (Conn. 2012) (citing Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, Inc. v. Rell, 295 Conn. 240, 271 (Conn. 2010) (plurality opinion)).

These six factors have two purposes. First, they allow the opposing party to better respond to a state constitutional argument. Second, they encourage the principled development of the Connecticut Constitution.  State v. Santiago, 305 Conn. 101, 251 n.127 (Conn. 2012).

The death penalty is not categorically forbidden by the California Constitution. State v. Webb, 238 Conn. 389, 402 (Conn. 1996) (citing State v. Ross, 230 Conn. 183, 245-52 (Conn. 1994)). A death sentence, however, must be imposed within the state and federal constitutional restraints. State v. Webb, 238 Conn. 389, 404-406 (Conn. 1996).

Section 1 of the Connecticut Constitution does not provide an absolute natural right to life. The legislature may impose the death penalty within state and federal constitutional limits. State v. Webb, 238 Conn. 389, 411 (Conn. 1996).

Leading Court Discussions of Graham and Miller 

State v. Riley, 308 Conn. 910, 61 A.3d 531 (Feb 20, 2013) (remand the lower court to address whether total sentence of 100 years imprisonment was proper under Eighth Amendment)