Where are the Supervisory Powers When We Need Them?

By Wesley W. Horton

In a 4-3 decision issued on June 9, the Supreme Court in Cassiano v. Commissioner of Correction, 317 Conn. 52, held that a United States Supreme Court decision, Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012) requiring trial courts under the Eighth Amendment to give mitigating weight to a youth-offender before imposing a life sentence, must be applied retroactively in a collateral (habeas corpus) attack on the sentence, and must be applied to a youth-offender given a 50-year sentence.

My problem with the majority is that it essentially decided the issue as a matter of Connecticut public policy.  But what Connecticut thinks is a good public policy has nothing to do with expounding federal constitutional law.

If the Connecticut Supreme Court thinks Miller is such a good public policy that it should be applied retroactively in collateral cases to a 50-year sentence, then it could have more modestly reached the same result under its supervisory powers by holding that the 50-year sentence imposed on the defendant, who was 16 at the time of the crime, was an abuse of discretion because the trial court did not properly weigh the mitigating factors.

I do not understand the unwillingness of state appellate courts to consider whether a criminal sentence is an abuse of discretion.  Such courts are willing to consider as a matter of state law whether a civil verdict is an abuse of discretion.  Why not criminal verdicts too?