Death Penalty Struck Down in Delaware

by | August 4, 2016

In a 148-page decision, Delaware's Supreme Court has invalidated the state's death penalty law.

The decision, brought forward in the case of Benjamin Rauf v. Delaware, was addressed by the court as a "certification of question of law."

In the case, state attorneys had indicated they would pursue the death penalty if Rauf were to be convicted on a charge of first-degree murder.

The court based its unanimous decision on a January 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found the death penalty statute in Florida was unconstitutional because the Sixth Amendment "requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death."

The justices noted Delaware's law is very similar, which would allow the court to make a ruling as "the question of whether our death penalty statute sufficiently respects a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury."

Gov. Jack Markell said he agreed with the decision.

"I applaud the Supreme Court's finding that the state's death penalty law is unconstitutional," the governor said in a statement.

"As I have come to see after careful consideration, the use of capital punishment is an instrument of imperfect justice that doesn't make us any safer. The important concerns of death penalty proponents must be balanced by the examples of flawed testimony, innocent people on death row being exonerated, and other facts that weigh strongly against the use capital punishment.

"While I would have supported abolishing the death penalty legislatively, it is my hope that today's decision will mean that we never see another death sentence in our state."

ACLU of Delaware Executive Director Kathleen MacRae concurred.

"The Delaware Supreme Court has decided that the Delaware death penalty statute is unconstitutional based on their understanding of the Sixth Amendment--trial by jury--and the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Hurst v. Florida.

"The ACLU of Delaware applauds this decision.

"As of today, Delaware no longer has a death penalty," MacRae said. "We join the ranks of 19 other states in the United States without capital punishment. We are proud to join with the seven other states such as Maryland, New Jersey, and Nebraska that have eliminated their death penalties since 2007.

"We call on all Delawareans to honor this ruling by our highest court and oppose any effort by the General Assembly to 'fix' our death penalty statute. The death penalty is an antiquated system broken beyond repair. It has no place in our criminal justice system."

State Rep. Sean M. Lynn, who unsuccessfully mounted a legislative repeal of the capital punishment statute, hopes the Supreme Court's decision will be the final word on the subject.

"Today's decision by the Delaware Supreme Court reinforces a belief that I, Sen. Peterson and many other Delawareans share: Delaware's death penalty is unconstitutional and does not comport with modern theories of punishment or prevailing thoughts on criminal justice," Lynn said.

"As a sponsor of legislation to abolish the death penalty, I'm obviously pleased with the court's decision, and I am hopeful that this victory for civil rights closes a chapter in our state's history and moves our state forward. I am also mindful of those who have been executed and who have languished on death row under the four separate iterations of Delaware's death penalty statute, all of which have been found to be unconstitutional," he said.

"Going forward, I and many supporters of the Repeal Project will be reviewing the 148-page decision to determine what, if any, action should be taken. Our end goal is to ensure that no death sentences are handed down in the future, and if the Supreme Court's decision accomplishes that, then that is an important consideration."

Rep. John Carney, Delaware's lone member of the House of Representatives and a Democratic candidate for governor, also supported the Supreme Court's action.

"As a former member of the Board of Pardons, I have had more occasion to contemplate the death penalty than most," he said in a statement. "Over the last several years, after a lot of study and reflection, I've come to the conclusion that it's a punishment that is too flawed for it to be considered fair or just. I support the Supreme Court's decision in its ruling today."

(c)2016 Dover Post, Del.