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Webb v. Commissioner of Correction

Supreme Court of Connecticut

July 26, 2016

DANIEL WEBB
v.
COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION

          Argued October 22, 2013

          Michael O. Sheehan, with whom was Richard A. Reeve, for the appellant (petitioner).

          Timothy J. Sugrue, assistant state’s attorney, and Harry Weller, senior assistant state’s attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Kevin T. Kane, chief state’s attorney, Matthew A. Weiner, assistant state’s attorney, and Michael E. O’Hare, former senior assistant state’s attorney, for the appellee (respondent).

          Hope R. Metcalf and Constance de la Vega, pro hac vice, filed a brief for certain experts on international human rights and comparative law as amici curiae.

          Alex V. Hernandez and Brian W. Stull filed a brief for certain legal historians and scholars as amici curiae.

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Vertefeuille, Js.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM

         The petitioner, Daniel Webb, raises the following two claims on appeal: (1) whether the habeas court properly denied his petition for a writ of habeas corpus; and (2) whether the legislature’s prospective repeal of the death penalty in No. 12-5 of the 2012 Public Acts (P.A. 12-5) rendered the death penalty, as applied to the petitioner and other defendants sentenced to death for capital felonies committed prior to the effective date of P.A. 12-5, unconstitutional under the state and federal constitutions. The petitioner’s second claim is governed by this court’s decisions in State v. Santiago, 318 Conn. 1, 9–10, 119, 122 A.3d 1 (2015), and State v. Peeler, 321 Conn. 375, 377, A.3d (2016), in which this court concluded and reaffirmed, respectively, that the imposition of the death penalty on defendants sentenced to death for capital felonies committed before the effective date of P.A. 12-5 would be unconstitutional under the Connecticut constitution. Accordingly, we conclude that the judgment of the habeas court must be reversed on this ground and that the case must be remanded to the habeas court with direction to order the trial court to resentence the defendant according to law.

         The record reveals the following procedural history. After a jury trial, the petitioner was found guilty of capital felony and other crimes arising from, inter alia, the kidnapping and murder of the victim in the city of Hartford in 1989.[1] See State v. Webb, 238 Conn. 389, 392–94, 397–98, 680 A.2d 147 (1996). After a separate penalty phase hearing before the same jury, the petitioner was sentenced to death. Id., 394, 396. The petitioner appealed to this court from his conviction and death sentence. Id., 392–94. This court affirmed the judgment of the trial court in all respects but remanded the case to the trial court for consideration of the petitioner’s claim, raised for the first time on appeal, that death by lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the state constitution. See id., 396– 97, 488–89, 551. On remand, the trial court concluded that the petitioner had failed to satisfy his burden of proving that death by lethal injection is unconstitutional. See State v. Webb, Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Docket No. HHD-CR-50492 (July 7, 1998) (22 Conn.L.Rptr. 369, 370). The petitioner appealed again to this court, and we again affirmed the judgment of the trial court. State v. Webb, 252 Conn. 128, 130, 147, 750 A.2d 448, cert. denied, 531 U.S. 835, 121 S.Ct. 93, 148 L.Ed.2d 53 (2000). Thereafter, the petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in which he raised several challenges to his death sentence.[2] The habeas court denied the petition. This appeal followed.[3]After the appeal was filed, we granted permission to the petitioner to file a supplemental brief on the issue of whether the legislature’s enactment of P.A. 12-5 rendered the death penalty, as applied to him and other defendants sentenced to death for capital crimes committed before the effective date of the legislation, unconstitutional under the state and federal constitutions.

         While this appeal was pending, this court issued its decision in Santiago, in which a majority of this court concluded that the enactment of P.A. 12-5 rendered the death penalty unconstitutional under the state constitution with respect to defendants who had been sentenced to death for capital felonies committed before the effective date of the legislation. See State v. Santiago, supra, 318 Conn. 9–10, 119. In Peeler, a majority of this court concluded that the decision in Santiago should be upheld. See State v. Peeler, supra, 321 Conn. 377. Accordingly, we agree with the defendant that the death penalty is unconstitutional as applied to him and that his petition for a writ of habeas corpus should be granted on that ground. We therefore reverse the judgment of the habeas court denying the petitioner’s habeas petition and remand the case to that court with direction to render judgment granting the petition and to order the trial court to resentence the petitioner according to law.

         The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded with direction to render judgment granting the petition for a writ of habeas corpus and to order the trial court to resentence the petitioner according to law.

          ESPINOSA, J., dissenting.

         I respectfully disagree and note that my opinions as expressed in my dissent in State v. Santiago, 318 Conn. 1, 388, 122 A.3d 1 (2015), and my dissent in State v. ...


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