Four days after Gov. M. Jodi Rell renewed her demand for a new “three-strikes” law, she called for a team to have the current persistent-offenders statutes “streamlined, strengthened and, of course, simplified,” at a special press conference Thursday afternoon.
After a Thursday meeting with Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice Chase Rogers, State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Danaher and Department of Correction Commissioner Theresa Lantz, Rell announced plans for a task force to study the three-strikes law in order to make “a big difference” in helping judges when they determine sentences. One state official said he sees Rell’s announcement as a turning point toward bipartisan cooperation in amending the law, as Rell seeks to investigate the issue further.
“Sometimes, I admit, it’s a little confusing,” Rell said in reference to the state’s current persistent offenders statutes. “It’s a little difficult sometimes to comprehend.”
She said because of ambiguous wording in the current law, judges are sometimes not sure about how to determine sentencing, especially because the sentencing protocol for third-time offenders is not standardized. The current three-strikes law allows judges to use discretion in their criminal sentencing for third felonies.
The task force will aim to clarify these statutes, Rell continued, before it presents the recommendations to the state legislature.
Co-chair of the Judiciary Committee Rep. Michael Lawlor said the press conference suggests that Rell has finally recognized the three-strikes law proposal is a “complicated issue.”
The announcements came less than a week after Rell released a statement addressing a New Britain home invasion in which one woman was shot dead and another was wounded last weekend. The man arrested for the crime is a career criminal whose record included charges for numerous burglaries and a sex offense with a minor.
In the statement, she called for another look at a proposed three-strikes law that failed at a March 24 state legislative committee.
“The ghastly crimes in New Britain show us unequivocally that there is more to do,” she said in the statement.
In the failed proposed three-strikes law, any offender convicted of a third violent felony would be sentenced to jail without possibility of parole. Three versions of the bill — with the same basic requirement — were presented to the legislative committee March 24.
State Republicans have supported all versions of the bill, but the Democrats said the law would limit prosecutorial discretion and allow for more plea bargains — which would leave more criminals on the streets, they said.
Later in the five-minute conference, she said the state may mandate PSIs, or pre-sentence investigations, for all high level felonies — level A and B felonies, which include murder and drug trafficking — for judges to examine when considering sentencing. The investigations would apply for all criminals, regardless of the number of prior convictions they had.
She noted that more judges already ask for investigation data since the triple Chesire homicide and home invasion — committed by men with long criminal records — last July.
Rell also said that at her meeting with the four other state officials, they considered mandating that all “major crimes” — those which the state attorney’s office is involved — be investigated by the state police instead of local forces for “enhanced investigations.” She said the mandate would set all major investigations to state standards.
“There’s such a great working relationship between the municipalities and the state police,” Rell said, emphasizing that this reform still needs further investigation in order to determine whether it is necessary.
Also at the press conference, Rell asked legislators to restore funds for a GPS monitoring system for state probation and parole officers that would keep track of the released prisoners. She also suggested the state may need more funds for a state program to help reform sex offenders.
Lawlor said he suspects that the press conference was called in response to Rell’s meeting with the four officials.
“I get the impression what she learned at the meeting was news for her,” he said, “which was what we knew for a while. You can pass any law you want, but what happens in the courthouses will be very different.”
The offices of Rogers, Blumenthal, Danaher and Lantz were not available for comment Thursday night.
City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga declined to comment Thursday night because she did not know about the conference.
There was no mention of Rell’s impromptu press conference at the aldermanic public safety committee meeting Thursday.