« Dynamic SCOTUS week for criminal law fans | Main | Federal prosecutors seeking 3-year prison terms for "Bridgegate" defendants »

March 28, 2017

After Hurst brought down Delaware death penalty, state legislators seek to bring it back

As reported in this lengthy local article, "legislators from both parties say they will try to re-institute the death penalty in Delaware this year with a measure expected to be introduced next week." Here is more:

“Delaware has a long history of applying capital punishment cautiously, judiciously, and infrequently,” said State Sen. Dave Lawson.  “These proposed changes would raise the imposition of such a sentence to a new level, removing what the court found objectionable and strengthening protections afforded defendants.”

The state Supreme Court last year ruled the capital punishment law unconstitutional because it allowed a judge, not a jury, to determine that "aggravating circumstances" made a crime heinous enough to deserve a death sentence.  There are 22 of those aggravating factors, such as crime committed against a police officer, crimes in which hostages are taken or if the crimes that are "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture or depravity of mind."  The Court's 4-1 decision also faulted the law for allowing juries to find those aggravating circumstances without a unanimous vote, using a standard of proof that was too low.

On Monday, a bipartisan group of legislators unveiled the "Extreme Crimes Prevention Act," which would change the law to address those concerns, effectively reinstating the punishment. It would require that juries unanimously decide that the aggravating circumstances merited a death sentence, and requires proof of those circumstances "beyond a reasonable doubt."  It also would require the judge and jury to weigh "mitigating factors," which would suggest the death penalty was unjust, against the "aggravating factors."...

In a news release, six legislators said they would co-sponsor the bill, including three Democrats and three Republicans. The release says the bill will be introduced in the House of Representatives next week. “It is impossible to quantify a crime not committed, but I believe the threat of capital punishment has altered criminal behavior and saved lives,” said State Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, also a former police officer. “The reforms our bill will apply will restore an aspect of the Delaware Code that I believe deters crimes and protects the public.”

Brendan O'Neill, Delaware's chief public defender, immediately criticized the proposal. “History has proven us wrong every time we have passed a law authorizing state-sponsored execution of Delawareans," O'Neill said. "The current nationwide trend in criminal justice is to move away from the death penalty. Delaware should not once again put itself on the wrong side of history."  O'Neill argued capital punishment is not proven to be a deterrent, has a history of racial disparities and has proven expensive to prosecute and defend....

Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover and one of the death penalty's most vocal opponents, said he thinks the bill could make headway, but hopes it will be defeated.  "I think it passes the House based solely upon the vote count from the repeal effort last year," Lynn said.  "The mystery is, the question is, what happens in the Senate."

March 28, 2017 at 09:01 AM | Permalink


The states may ignore all out of control Supreme Court decisions. They are all lawless, biased, stupid, and prohibited by the constitution. If any federal official arrives to try to enforce one, taser him, and expel him from the state by the collar.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 28, 2017 6:39:26 PM

Doug, I recall that Supremacy Claus said that Bill requested that he come back to your outstanding and helpful blog, but he would leave if a "certain specific person" asked him to leave. I assume he is referring to you.

I would respectfully ask you to consider requesting that S.C. leave. His posts have gotten so tiresome that it reminds me of the old joke about the six fishing buddies who were out on a charter boat and one would blurt out, "three!" and they would all laugh. A little later another one would say "six" and they would all laugh again. The captain of the fishing boat finally asked what was so funny about the number "six". One of the buddies responded that the group had told the same jokes so many times, they just gave the jokes a number to save the time of retelling it.

Supremacy Clause has about a half dozen positions. If he won't leave, maybe you could ask him to number his predictable comments and then he could just post a number and we would all know what to ignore.

thanks, Bruce

Posted by: bruce cunningham | Mar 28, 2017 9:40:58 PM

The Delaware law was created specifically because they didn't think juries would give enough death sentences. I don't have the statistics in front of me, but I think it was about three verdicts in the past 15-20 years that called for death by unanimous vote. Now they're reaping what they sew. If they want a unanimous verdict, the death penalty won't go away, but it will certainly be much more limited and less effective. Then they would have to decide whether it's worth the cost.

Posted by: Erik M | Mar 29, 2017 8:41:38 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB