The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Tougher domestic violence laws sought
State Republicans call for stronger penalties; Democrats say it won’t help
HARTFORD — Domestic abusers who murder their spouses or intimate partners would face mandatory life sentences in prison without the possibility of release, under several major changes to state criminal penalties announced Wednesday by minority Republican members of the House and Senate.
But a veteran Democratic cochairman of the law-writing legislative Judiciary Committee said the domestic violence proposals, intended by the GOP to discourage the kinds of crimes that resulted in the recent deaths of women in Milford and Bridgeport, are non-starters in the current legislative session, mostly because tougher penalties have been shown to have no effect on murderers.
The proposals would also toughen the domestic violence laws, including enhanced protections for surviving victims and using more GPS monitors of alleged domestic abusers.
An investigation by Hearst Connecticut Media in recent years reviewed the deaths of 300 people who have died through intimate partner violence over the last 20 years. The investigation showed protective orders are often put in place for known cases of violence, but charges tied to violation of those orders are often dismissed, often through a diversionary program. Advocates at the time said consequences offenders face for those violations are often too lenient.
Republicans led by House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora of North Branford and Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly of Stratford, backed by caucus members proposed changes to the way defendants get bailed out of jail; increase penalties for juvenile criminals; rewrite a controversial law on police immunity from civil lawsuit; and change statewide pursuit protocols for cops to engage car chases.
“These proposals will truly help victims who have suffered and unfortunately continue to suffer from these horrific crimes,” said state Sen. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield. Rep. Craig Fishbein of Wallingford, a top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said that the mandatory life-in-prison proposal
would classify murder of an intimate partner as one of special circumstances, with penalties equal to those convicted of murdering of a law enforcement officer, a kidnap victim ,orso meone under 16.
“Under our Constitution, presently, the only crime for which one can be held without bail is murder with special circumstances, so we think that’s really important for domestic violence victims,” Fishbein said.
“Our society — our fear is — is becoming desensitized to these issues, which aren’t just impacting adults but are certainly i mpacting children,” Candelora said. “And the crime seems to be hitting at a younger and younger and younger age. A lot of reforms we have seen over the last decade we firmly believe have led to this, have encouraged these types of crimes.”
“All people deserve to live in a community that’s safe,” Kelly said. “Where it’s safe to walk down the street, where it’s safe to fill your car with gas, where it’s safe to go to a convenience store to get a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. Unfortunately for families in Connecticut, many don’t have those feelings. Our cities are seeing an uptick in violent crime.”
State Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, cochairman of the Judiciary Committee, rejected the domestic violence initiative, noting that the lifein-prison proposal was initially proposed by a Democratic lawmaker from the Danbury area in reaction to the December 2018 murder in Bridgeport of 25-year-old Emily Todd, a therapist at a Danbury senior center. Last December, Julie Minogue was murdered in her Milford home, allegedly by a former partner against whom she had a restraining order.
Gov. Ned Lamont said at the tim e he is co mmitted to further strengthening state laws on domestic violence. Earlier this year, Lamont unveiled a handful of proposals meant to curb intimate partner violence, largely tied to firearm restrictions.
There are also numerous submitted bills tied to preventative domestic violence measures including providing additional housing protections for victim soffa mily violence, better tracking for those charged with domestic violence previously and allocating additional funds for victim services.
“The bottom line is that increasing penalties does not deter crime,” Stafstrom said in an interview. “Someone who is going to murder their spouse or their domestic partner is not going to think that under current law he gets only 40 years, but under this he’ll remain in prison for life, so he will not commit the crime. This will not deter heinous murders. It will only make Connecticut less safe.”
Plus life without a chance of release discourages the prison behavior of incarcerated people, Stafstrom said.
“When you have someone who is in prison for a lengthy sentence for a murder, you remove any opportunity for that person to rehabilitate themselves and eventually reenter society,” Stafstrom said. “This backwards tough-on-crime mentality doesn’t make our state any more safe.”
Only the bail-reform legislation exists as actual legislation before legislative committees, but Fishbein told reporters that most of the issues would come up in future public hearings and be the focus later of closed-door negotiations with Democrats, who after the three special House elections on Tuesday, retained their 98-53 majority in the House, with a 24-12 edge in the Senate.