Mar 29, 2008

Connecticut Superior Judge Spada on Voire Dire and Parole issues

Change Parole Rules - And Monitor Those Released by Arthur L. Spada

Note; Arthur L. Spada is a former Connecticut Superior Court judge as well as the former Connecticut State commissioner of public safety during the Rowland administration.

The Petit family tragedy is a metaphor for the pivotal failure of the Connecticut criminal justice system. Interlocking failures culminated in a night of terror orchestrated by recently paroled Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky. The use of electronic ankle bracelets would have prevented this carnage.

The federal government and many of our sister states now embrace the use of attached ankle bracelets for all released felons. Connecticut needs to adopt a similar program. To do otherwise endangers innocents.

The state's prisons have become revolving doors for career criminals. The great wash of criminals cannot be tried because of the state's anachronistic, time-consuming, protracted voire dire requirement. Voire dire is a procedure by which prospective jurors are questioned. In Connecticut, they are questioned individually rather than in a group. Neither the federal government nor any of our sister states employ Connecticut's individual voir dire selection for juries.

This results in an abnormally high rate of plea bargaining and an abysmally low rate of trials. Every defendant in a plea-bargained disposition negotiates his own sentence. The result? Excessively short sentences for serious crimes.

Hayes, harnessed with a conviction record of 20 robberies and six larcenies, had plea-bargained for a five-year sentence to a charge of burglary. Hayes served two years and was paroled administratively, without benefit of a public hearing; nor were his victims notified. This miscue was legitimized by the recent enactment of Public Act 04-234.

This law must be repealed or seriously amended. Its unabashed purpose is "to reduce by 20 percent the number of inmates jailed due to technical violations of probation or parole." The message to parolees is no re-incarceration unless you repeatedly violate your conditions of parole or commit a serious crime.

But Public Act 04-234 causes additional harm to our citizenry. Except for a handful of heinous crimes, sentenced inmates are now eligible for administrative parole almost immediately. A staff clerk reviews a file without notifying the victims and then submits a recommendation - but there is no public record of the reason for the recommendation.

There is even more harm contained in the law: Inmates can be transferred to halfway houses 18 months before their release date. The Department of Correction can release inmates charged with a misdemeanor and Class D felons who cannot make bail. (This raises a serious separation of powers issue because bail-setting is a judicial function.) The Correction Department can release inmates for work or educational purposes to a community or private residence. The commissioner can issue renewable 30-day furloughs. Drug-dependent sellers can twice enter a treatment program in lieu of prosecution or jail.

The most contemptible provision of Public Act 04-234 is the shift of responsibility: It places the onus on the parole board to show why it should not grant parole rather than putting the burden on the prisoner to prove why he should be released: "The Board must give specific reasons why the person and public would not benefit from the person's parole while transitioning to the community."

This new standard is a stark affront to the law-abiding citizens of our state.
Connecticut's prisons must accommodate the influx of 5,000 prisoners annually. Because the prison population is at near-maximum, that means 5,000 inmates must be transferred or paroled to the community. The political resistance to building new prisons or placing inmates in out-of-state prisons mandates the use of electronic ankle bracelets.

These bracelets are electronically connected to global positioning satellites. The satellite can continuously transmit digital radio signals pinpointing the parolee's location. Currently, 268 sex offenders are electronically monitored by the state's parole division.

To protect citizens and to ensure against another Cheshire redux, we now need to use electronic ankle bracelets on all released felons during their entire parole period and on career criminals during fixed time periods beyond parole.

Ironically, the GPS solution would save taxpayers money, although saving lives and property, not saving dollars, would be the reason to use ankle bracelets. Inmates cost an average $30,000 per year; the GPS system costs an average $4,650 per year. The GPS can help parole officers enforce curfews and keep parolees within circumscribed boundaries.
The repeal of Public Act 04-234, the removal of voir dire in criminal cases and the use of electronic ankle bracelets for all paroled and career criminals will usher a new day of domestic tranquility. Such changes would burnish the images of the Cheshire innocents. ________

This is a reprint of the article as it was originally published last august, just after the Petit family assaults and murders In Cheshire Ct. It was published as an Op-ed piece in The Hartford Courant and then posted on a website called The Real Cost of Prisons weblog

The Piece was written by a learned Superior Court Justice by the name of Spada who was also former director of Public safety during the Rowland administration.

Many of the issues broached within the article have yet to be resolved and many members of the public continue to be unaware that such things are even happening in this state., let alone why they are happening. I urge you all to read it and to get involved!

More on the Voire dire practices in Conn later...

No comments: