Conn. Reverses Precedent to Uphold Skakel Conviction

For those concerned about the possibility of Judge Sam Alito voting to overturn Roe v. Wade, consider the Connecticut Supreme Court's opinion yesterday upholding the conviction of Michael Skakel for the murder of Martha Moxley. Precedent? Forget about it.

Convicted killer Michael Skakel's best bet for freedom was rooted in a 1983 state Supreme Court ruling that would have barred his prosecution for the 1975 fatal bludgeoning of his friend and neighbor, Martha Moxley, 25 years after the slaying. But the Supreme Court, in upholding Skakel's conviction Friday, dramatically reversed its own precedent, saying the 1983 ruling was "fundamentally flawed."

"Although we will not lightly reverse long-standing precedent, we are unwilling to compound the error that we made in [1983] by approving it again today," Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote in the court's unanimous ruling.

In Skakel, the issue was the statute of limitations:

The legislature in 1975 passed a law that imposed a five-year statute of limitations, or deadline, for prosecuting all crimes, except those punishable by death. The following year the legislature passed an amendment specifically exempting from the five-year statute of limitations all Class A felonies, including murder. The amendment took effect April 6, 1976 - nearly six months after Moxley was killed.

At issue in the 1983 state Supreme Court ruling was whether the amendment applied retroactively. The court ruled that it didn't, when it upheld the dismissal of murder and other felony charges filed against Wilbur Paradise in 1981, for a 1974 incident. "Upon reconsideration, we are persuaded that Paradise was wrongly decided," Palmer wrote in the Skakel decision. Chief Justice William J. Sullivan and Justices Joette Katz, Christine Vertefeuille and Peter T. Zarella concurred.

At the time Martha Moxley was murdered, there was a five year statute of limitations in effect. In order to get around it and affirm Skakel's convction, the Court reversed its prior ruling of more than 20 years standing that an amendment excluding murder from the time limit could not apply retroactively.

If the defendant was a Joe Schmo no one ever heard of, would the decision have been the same? Or did the court want to affirm Skakel's conviction so badly it was willing to reverse it's own precedent to do so?

Anyone who believes Sam Alito would not do the same thing in an abortion rights case is fooling themselves.

The 89 page opinion in Skakel is here. (pdf)

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    This is a result of the scotus discision in Bush vs. Gore. If the supremes can ignore precedent it is logical and not surprising that State supreme courts would feel free to do the same. Get ready for a wild and dangerous future.

    Perhaps Skakel can argue that this amounted to an ex post facto law or bill of attainder to change the rules after the fact, precluded by the Constitution, in a certiorari petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. Any bets on whether the High COurt accepts review of that? (Of course, its not that appetizing to apply such a statutory benefit for the advantage of a killer, but then, why did the legislature pass such a statute of limitations in the first place if it did not intend this result? Judicial activism, anyone?) Of course, virtually the same rationale is being urged by the Bush Administration to preclude judicial review of the status of Gitmo detainees, despite the fact that many have had cases pending for years under "the old rules" (i.e. habeas corpus not yet suspended).

    Re: Conn. Reverses Precedent to Uphold Skakel Conv (none / 0) (#3)
    by ding7777 on Sun Jan 15, 2006 at 09:13:51 AM EST
    Can Wilbur Paradise now be (re)tried? How many others can now be tried that were once proctected by the retoactive application of the admentment?

    Re: Conn. Reverses Precedent to Uphold Skakel Conv (none / 0) (#4)
    by Che's Lounge on Sun Jan 15, 2006 at 11:21:48 AM EST
    Typo in your article: According to the MSM, his name is always listed as "Kennedy Cousin Michael Skakel". Please correct this to reflect the proper guilt by smear approch to this topic for the salacious-loving reptiles. After all, you don't want to lose any of your intellectual RW commentors.

    Re: Conn. Reverses Precedent to Uphold Skakel Conv (none / 0) (#5)
    by cpinva on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 12:33:27 AM EST
    intellectual RW commentors.
    i believe this is an oxymoron. or, just a moron. i'm so confused! the USSC, in bush v gore, ignored the constitution, which i guess is the ultimate precedence. it should be interesting to see if this goes to the USSC, and what their response is. personally, i thought the skakel case was another, earlier, scott peterson case: no real forensic or other evidence, but the outrage of the community, and family with access to the media and politicians, to convict.

    Re: Conn. Reverses Precedent to Uphold Skakel Conv (none / 0) (#6)
    by Che's Lounge on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 10:14:20 AM EST
    I should have put intellectual in quotation marks.

    If forced to choose between a court dedicated to the enforcement of precedent and a court dedicated to social justice, I would probably, on the basis of Souter's notion that the law is a search for "first principles," choose the latter. I view the overturning of Plessy v Ferguson as an achievement on the part of the Warren court on those grounds. While the sympathetic victims of Plessy v Ferguson were a generation of African-American schoolchildren, the sympathetic victim in Connecticut v. Skakel was a fifteen year old girl who was brutally murdered. So while you may have seen me at that Pro-Choice march to George Bush Srs. Maine vacation getaway a few years back struggling to keep abortion safe and legal, you won't find me marching for a statute of limitations on murder. I'll be happy to sing "We Shall Overcome" songs for Michael Skakel, some day, but it will have to be on the grounds that he is innocent of the crime. I have yet to run into a convincing argument that that is the case.