GOP lawmakers want to reinstate the death penalty in Delaware

Legislative Hall

Republican State lawmakers want to move ahead with legislation to reinstate the death penalty in Delaware.

The Egregious Crimes Accountability Act limits the aggravating circumstances attached to a murder to four categories where prosecutors could consider capital punishment, including mass murder, repeat offenders previously convicted of murder, horribly inhumane and hate crimes.

In January 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court (Hurst v. State of Florida) struck down Florida’s capital punishment law.

Delaware’s capital punishment statute, which was similar to that of Florida, was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court on August 2, 2016 (Rauf v. State of Delaware).

The Egregious Crimes Accountability Act, which will be circulated for state lawmakers’ support this week, addresses the issues cited in the Delaware Supreme Court ruling.

“Capital punishment in the State of Delaware is something that’s not been used a lot in our history, but in some circumstances it’s a necessity and that’s why we think this debate should occur,” House Minority Leader Danny Short explained.

Before the Delaware Supreme Court struck down Delaware’s capital punishment statute, there were 22 aggravating circumstances that could have made a murderer eligible for capital punishment.

House Bill 165, which is pending action in the House Judiciary Committee, seeks to fix and restore this version of the law.

“It boils it down to what I think is a simplified discussion with regard to capital punishment and what crimes would eligible for capital punishment in the State of Delaware,” Rep. Short said. “It makes it a far more simple bill, and makes it more understandable to our legislators and the public.”

The bill’s Senate prime sponsor, State Sen. Dave Wilson, said his support of the measure came with some soul-searching. Ultimately, he concluded prosecutors need the extreme option in some cases.

Sen. Wilson cited the case of Correctional Officer Lt. Steven Floyd, who was tortured and murdered at James Vaughn prison three years ago. The only person convicted of that crime was already serving a life sentence for murder, escaping any additional punishment.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, capital punishment is currently authorized in 29 states, by the federal government and the U.S. military.