clock menu more-arrow no yes

The Connecticut Supreme Court just let everyone off the state's death row

Joe Raedle/Hulton Archive via Getty Images

The Connecticut Supreme Court answered a big question on Thursday: After the state abolished the death penalty in 2012, can it execute inmates who were sentenced to death before the law took effect?

The court, in a 4-3 ruling, ruled that the 11 inmates now on the state's death row can't be executed, as the state's death penalty law is now unconstitutional.

"Upon careful consideration of the defendant's claims in light of the governing constitutional principles and Connecticut's unique historical and legal landscape, we are persuaded that, following its prospective abolition, this state's death penalty no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency and no longer serves any legitimate penological purpose," Justice Richard Palmer wrote for the majority, the Hartford Courant's Edmund Mahony reported. "For these reasons, execution of those offenders who committed capital felonies prior to April 25, 2012, would violate the state constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment."

Connecticut isn't the latest state to abolish the death penalty, instead falling within the seven states that have done so since 2007, according to the nonpartisan Death Penalty Information Center. The latest state to do so was Nebraska in May, after legislators — citing the financial costs of the death penalty and religious objections to executions — overrode the governor's veto.

The death penalty is generally on the decline in America as states deal with a drop in public support, new limits on execution drugs, and the high cost associated with death penalty trials. Read our explainer for more: