State v. Peeler

Citation140 A.3d 811 (Mem),321 Conn. 375
Decision Date26 May 2016
Docket NumberNo. 18125.,18125.
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Russell PEELER.

321 Conn. 375
140 A.3d 811 (Mem)

STATE of Connecticut
Russell PEELER.

No. 18125.

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued Jan. 7, 2016.
Decided May 26, 2016.

Mark Rademacher, assistant public defender, with whom was Lisa J. Steele, for the appellant (defendant).

Harry Weller, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Kevin T. Kane, chief state's attorney, John C. Smriga, state's attorney, Jonathan Benedict, former state's attorney, Susan C. Marks, supervisory assistant state's attorney, Marjorie Allen Dauster and Joseph Corradino, senior assistant state's attorneys, and Matthew A. Weiner, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).



321 Conn. 376

A jury found the defendant, Russell Peeler, guilty of, among other things, one count of capital felony in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1999) § 53a–54b (8) and one count of capital felony in violation

321 Conn. 377

of General Statutes (Rev. to 1999) § 53a–54b (9) in connection with the 1999 shooting deaths of a woman and her young son, and, following a capital sentencing hearing, the trial court, Devlin, J., rendered judgment imposing two death sentences.1 This appeal of the defendant's death sentences is controlled by State v. Santiago, 318 Conn. 1, 122 A.3d 1 (2015), in which a majority of this court concluded that, following the enactment of No. 12–5 of the 2012 Public Acts (P.A. 12–5), executing offenders who committed capital crimes prior to the enactment of P.A. 12–5 would offend article first, §§ 8 and 9, of the Connecticut constitution. See, e.g., Conway v. Wilton, 238 Conn. 653, 658–62, 680 A.2d 242 (1996) (explaining scope of and rationale for rule of stare decisis). Our conclusion that the defendant's death sentences must be vacated as unconstitutional in light of Santiago renders moot the defendant's other appellate claims.

The judgment is reversed with respect to the imposition of two sentences of death and the case is remanded with direction to impose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release on each capital felony count; the judgment is affirmed in all other respects.

In this opinion ROGERS, C.J., and PALMER, EVELEIGH, McDONALD and ROBINSON, Js., concurred.

ROGERS, C.J., concurring.

Just as my personal beliefs cannot drive my decision-making, I feel bound by the doctrine of stare decisis in this case for one simple reason—my respect for the rule of law. To reverse an important constitutional issue within a period of less than one year solely because of a change

321 Conn. 378

injustices on the panel that is charged with deciding the issue, in my opinion,

140 A.3d 812

would raise legitimate concerns by the people we serve about the court's integrity and the rule of law in the state of Connecticut.

Having carefully considered the arguments presented by the parties, I am not persuaded by the state's contention that principles of stare decisis should not control the outcome of this case. Although I agree that “stare decisis is a principle of policy and not a mechanical formula of adherence to the latest decision, Boys Markets, Inc. v. [Retail Clerks Union, Local 770 ], 398 U.S. 235, 241 [90 S.Ct. 1583, 26 L.Ed.2d 199] (1970), it is indisputable that stare decisis is a basic self-governing principle within the Judicial Branch, which is entrusted with the sensitive and difficult task of fashioning and preserving a jurisprudential system that is not based upon an arbitrary discretion. The Federalist, No. 78, p. 490 (H. Lodge ed. 1888) (A. Hamilton). See also Vasquez v. Hillery, 474 U.S. 254, 265 [106 S.Ct. 617, 88 L.Ed.2d 598] (1986) (stare decisis ensures that the law will not merely change erratically and permits society to presume that bedrock principles are founded in the law rather than in the proclivities of individuals).” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U.S. 164, 172, 109 S.Ct. 2363, 105 L.Ed.2d 132 (1989). “[N]o judicial system could do society's work if it eyed each issue afresh in every case that raised it.... Indeed, the very concept of the rule of law underlying our own [c]onstitution requires such continuity over time that a respect for precedent is, by definition, indispensable.” (Citation omitted.) Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 854, 112 S.Ct. 2791, 120 L.Ed.2d 674 (1992) ; see also George v. Ericson, 250 Conn. 312, 318, 736 A.2d 889 (1999) (“Stare decisis is justified because it allows for predictability in the ordering of conduct, it promotes the necessary perception that the law is

321 Conn. 379

relatively unchanging, it saves resources and it promotes judicial efficiency....It is the most important application of a theory of [decision-making] consistency in our legal culture and it is an obvious manifestation of the notion that [decision-making] consistency itself has normative value.” [Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.] ).

“While stare decisis is not an inexorable command ... particularly when we are interpreting the [c]onstitution ... even in constitutional cases, the doctrine carries such persuasive force that we have always required a departure from precedent to be supported by some special justification.” (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428, 443, 120 S.Ct. 2326, 147 L.Ed.2d 405 (2000). “Such justifications include the advent of subsequent changes or development in the law that undermine a decision's rationale ... the need to bring [a decision] into agreement with experience and with facts newly ascertained ... and a showing that a particular precedent has become a detriment to coherence and consistency in the law....” (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 849, 111 S.Ct. 2597, 115 L.Ed.2d 720 (1991) (Marshall, J., dissenting).

When neither the factual underpinnings of the prior decision nor the law has changed, “the [c]ourt could not pretend to be reexamining the prior law with any justification beyond a present doctrinal disposition to come out differently from [the prior decision]. To overrule prior law for no other reason than that would run counter to the view repeated in our cases, that a decision to overrule should rest on some special reason over and above the belief that a prior case was wrongly decided.” Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, supra, 505 U.S. at 864, 112 S.Ct. 2791.

140 A.3d 813

I cannot identify any change or development in the law since the decision in

321 Conn. 380

State v. Santiago, 318 Conn. 1, 122 A.3d 1 (2015), was issued or any new experiences or facts that have come to light. Because there also has been no showing that the substance of the opinion has or will become a detriment to coherence and consistency in the law, applying the doctrine of stare decisis is appropriate. Moreover, although the state has now had an opportunity to present new arguments in the present case that it had no reason to present in Santiago because it was not on notice that this court would consider them, the three members of the current court who were in the majority in that case have rejected those arguments on the merits and the fourth member of the majority in Santiago, Justice Norcott, had for many years before that decision expressed his view that the death penalty is unconstitutional per se. See, e.g., State v. Rizzo, 303 Conn. 71, 203, 31 A.3d 1094 (2011) (Norcott, J., dissenting) (“the death penalty per se is wrong, violates the state constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment [and] ... our statutory scheme for the imposition of the death penalty cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny because it allows for arbitrariness and racial discrimination in the determination of who shall live or die at the hands of the state” [internal quotation marks omitted] ), cert. denied, ––– U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 133, 184 L.Ed.2d 64 (2012). Accordingly, it is clear that, if these issues had been raised and briefed in Santiago, the result would have been no different. In fact, the only change that has occurred is a change in the makeup of this court, which occurred after oral argument in Santiago but before the decision was released. I strongly believe that, in and of itself, a change in the membership of this court within a relatively short period of time cannot justify a departure from the basic principle of stare decisis, especially on an issue of such great public importance.1

321 Conn. 381

See Payne v. Tennessee, supra, 501 U.S. at 850, 111 S.Ct. 2597 (Marshall, J., dissenting) (change in court's personnel “has been almost universally understood not to be sufficient to warrant overruling a precedent” [emphasis in original] ); Taylor v. Robinson, 196 Conn. 572, 578, 494 A.2d 1195 (1985) (Peters, C.J., concurring) (“[a] change in the constituency of this court is not a sufficiently compelling reason to warrant departure from a [recent decision]”), appeal dismissed, 475 U.S. 1002, 106 S.Ct. 1172, 89 L.Ed.2d 291 (1986) ; Tileston v. Ullman, 129 Conn. 84, 86, 26 A.2d 582 (1942) (“a change in the personnel of the court affords no ground for reopening a question which has been authoritatively settled”), appeal dismissed, 318 U.S. 44, 63 S.Ct. 493, 87 L.Ed. 603 (1943). Any other conclusion would send the message that, whenever there is a hotly contested issue in this court that

140 A.3d 814

results in a closely divided decision, anyone who disagrees with the decision and has standing to challenge it need only wait until a member of the original majority leaves the court to mount another assault. In my view, that would be a very dangerous message to send. See Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, supra, 505 U.S. at 854, 112 S.Ct. 2791 (“no judicial system could do society's work if it eyed each issue afresh in every case that...

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  • State v. Ashby
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 6, 2020
    ...subsequently resentenced to a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of release on those charges. See, e.g., State v. Peeler , 321 Conn. 375, 377, 140 A.3d 811 (2016) ; State v. Santiago , 318 Conn. 1, 85–86, 122 A.3d 1 (2015).8 A defendant's right to counsel under the sixth amen......
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    • January 26, 2018 of error in the penalty phase of the proceedings should not be dismissed as moot in light of [ Santiago ] and State v. Peeler , 321 Conn. 375, [140 A.3d 811] (2016)." The defendant claims that the penalty phase issues are not moot because he will suffer collateral consequences if he ......
  • People v. Ghobrial, S105908
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    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • June 21, 2018
    ...Supreme Court later invalidated the remainder of the death penalty law under the Connecticut Constitution. (State v. Peeler (2016) 321 Conn. 375, 140 A.3d 811 ; State v. Santiago (2015) 318 Conn. 1, 122 A.3d 1.)* Associate Justice of the Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, assigned b......
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    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
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    ...continuity over time that a respect for precedent is, by definition, indispensable." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Peeler, 321 Conn. 375, 378, 140 A.3d 811 (2016) ; see Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 854, 112 S.Ct. 2791, 120 L.Ed. 2d 6......
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1 books & journal articles
  • A Survey of Criminal Law Opinions
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 90, 2017
    • Invalid date
    ...editing and advice and Alexandra Georgieva for her invaluable help with research and organizing. [1] 318 Conn. 1, 122 A.3d 1 (2015). [2] 321 Conn. 375, 140 A.3d 811 (2016). [3] 305 Conn. 101, 49 A.3d 566 (2012). [4] State V. Santiago (Santiago Ii), 318 Conn. 1, 11, 122 A.3d 1 (2015). [5] Id......

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