Was Tuesday’s election also a referendum on a true “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” law?
If it was, the law isn’t as popular as some might think. A majority of the 58 General Assembly candidates who signed a petition supporting a three-strikes law lost on Tuesday. Here’s how it broke down:
In the Senate, 8 of 15 lost their races, while 2 of the 7 winners were uncontested.
In the House, 29 of 43 candidates lost, while just 14 won.
Between the two chambers, about 64 percent of the candidates supporting three strikes lost. But it remains to be seen whether those results are definitive with respect to public support for the law.
“It shows you that issue was a campaign issue, rather than a valid policy issue,” Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Wednesday.
Sen. Sam Caligiuri, R-Waterbury, who also is chairman of the Three Strikes Now Coalition, says he respectfully disagrees with Looney’s assessment.
“It was never our intention to influence the outcome of races,” Caligiuri said Wednesday. “We used the campaign season to talk about the issue.”
Looney said the three-strikes proposal, which would mandate a life sentence on a third violent offense, is flawed because it fails to recognize the realities of the criminal justice system. “No one would ever plead guilty to that third offense,” he said.
The three-strikes debate came to fruition last year following the horrific murders of three members of the Petit family in Cheshire. In response, the legislature scrambled to make significant changes to the criminal justice system and many lawmakers, including Caligiuri, felt those changes fell short because they did not mandate a life sentence for a third violent offense.
“A three strikes law would not have prevented that heinous crime from happening,” Johanna Petit-Chapman said in September at the launch of the Three Strikes Now Coalition. However, it made “me more keenly aware of the persistent offenders that exist in our state. And more importantly it made me more keenly aware of all the innocent victims forever effected by their crimes.”
“We believe there’s a massive amount of grassroots support on this issue,” Caligiuri has said. He said Wednesday that “it’s still a valid policy issue,” which the coalition hopes will be debated again next year.
Dr. William Petit, the lone survivor of the deadly home invasion, told the Hartford Courant in October that he would stand with any candidate willing to sign the pledge.
According to the Hartford Courant’s Oct. 26 article Petit said, “I support the Three Strikes Now Coalition and the concept because I feel it’s the government’s first duty to protect its citizens.” Petit was speaking outside Woodbury Town Hall where three legislators signed the pledge.
All three of those legislators won re-election Tuesday.
The Bristol Press also reported that Dr. Petit, an honorary chairman of the Three Strikes Now Coalition, visited Bristol City Hall for a public signing of the pledge by two legislative candidates, both of whom lost their races Tuesday.
A vote on a three-strikes provision during January’s special session on criminal justice reforms fell mostly along party lines, with three Democrats in the Senate and eight Democrats in the House crossing party lines to vote with Republicans in favor of a three-strikes proposal, a measure which ultimately failed in both chambers.
Of those who won Tuesday and supported a true three-strikes law, six were Democrats and 13 were Republicans. Of those who lost and supported three-strikes, 30 were Republicans, two were affiliated with the Concerned Citizens party, one was a petitioning candidate, three were independent candidates, and one was a Democrat.
Caligiuri, who is handling the legislative petition in support of the law, said Wednesday he has seven more candidates to add to the list, which was last updated Oct. 20.
Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, has said that when the General Assembly reconvenes in January it will evaluate the effectiveness of the legislation it passed last January, largely in response to the Petit murders. McDonald said the legislation passed unanimously by the General Assembly allows judges to double and triple the sentences of career offenders. He said career offenders can have their sentences enhanced up to and including life in prison under the new legislation.
When prosecutors use this legislation, McDonald said, criminals can be put away for a long time.