The Senate stripped virtually all functional provisions from legislation on the so-called “knockout game” before passing it after a late-night debate Tuesday.
The bill was drafted as an attempt to curb something called the “knockout game,” or the practice of sucker-punching a stranger for entertainment.
The amended bill specifies that knocking someone unconscious in an unprovoked attack is considered a second-degree assault under Connecticut statute. Public Safety Co-chairwoman Sen. Joan Hartley acknowledged that such an attack would likely already be considered a second-degree assault under current law.
In a strike-all amendment on the Senate floor, lawmakers removed controversial provisions from the bill that would have made those attacks carry a mandatory two-year sentence and required juvenile courts to transfer 16- and 17-year-olds accused of the crime to the adult criminal justice system.
The legislation was approved in a 28-8, bipartisan vote, but it drew criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Democratic Sen. Ed Meyer, a former federal prosecutor, called the bill “bad policy.”
“As a matter of penal law policy, this bill just doesn’t make any sense. We have covered the person who’s hit and suffers that concussion right on in the current law. We don’t need this. We don’t need special cases,” he said.
Meyer discouraged lawmakers from adding specific circumstances for different crimes into state statute. Next, he said lawmakers will be looking to make assaulting state senators a specific kind of crime.
“Every person will want to have their own special penalty because it’ll make them feel good,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said the new section of the second-degree assault statute is unlikely to ever be used because it forces prosecutors to prove additional circumstances like the victim being knocked unconscious or that the attack was unprovoked.
“When I first heard this law came up, I said ‘Wait a minute. I thought if you walked up to somebody and you knocked them out in the face causing serious injury, that would be a crime.’ And I checked and it is,” he said. “We’re putting something into statute that’s already a second-degree felony. We’re just saying, ‘It’s really a second degree felony.’”
However, Sen. John Kissel said the new section of the statute could be used to make some adult offenders ineligible for a court diversionary program called accelerated rehabilitation.
“Well it’s not a lot,” he said and paused. “But it’s something.”
Kissel said he preferred the original bill that made knockout attacks a Class D felony with a mandatory two-year sentence.
“I would have been okay with the enhanced penalty. I feel bad for those folks that are so philosophically opposed to mandatory minimums that they would shy away from that,” he said.
Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who is a staunch opponent of mandatory minimum sentences, supported the bill for abandoning those provisions. He said some criminal justice policies have unintended consequences.
“We unfortunately catch some of the people in our society in ways that we did not intend to and we actually sometimes look like we target certain segments of our society,” he said.