Legislation that would restore capital punishment in Delaware is looking for sponsors in the General Assembly. The Extreme Crimes Protection Act is a bipartisan measure that would reinstate the death penalty for those found guilty of the state’s worst crimes – as well as act as a restraining factor against the commission of those crimes. Capital punishment has been off the table for three years in Delaware – since the US Supreme Court struck down Florida’s capital punishment law. Delaware’s was similar and was ruled unconstitutional by the Delaware Supreme Court in August of 2016.
This new legislation addresses the issues cited in both the federal and state supreme court rulings and makes additional changes intended to further improve the statute.
Under the new bill:
· No one convicted on a verdict of “guilty, but mentally ill” would be subject to capital punishment.
· Capital punishment could not be imposed unless a jury* unanimously and “beyond a reasonable doubt” found one or more aggravating circumstances that made the offense eligible for capital punishment.
· The scope of the aggravating circumstances to be considered under the sentencing process has been narrowed.
· A jury would have the discretion to give “appropriate weight to any mitigating circumstances” (factors that lessen the severity or culpability of a criminal act), even if their existence had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
· For capital punishment to be imposed, a jury would have to unanimously find that the aggravating factors had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and that they outweighed the mitigating factors.
· For capital punishment to be implemented, the presiding judge would need to agree with the jury’s findings and impose the sentence.
· Where appropriate, the presiding judge would also have to weigh if the defendant had “an intellectual disability” at the time the crime was committed. If the judge found “clear and convincing” evidence that such an impairment existed, capital punishment could not be imposed.
The measure’s initial prime sponsors are: State Rep. William Carson, D-Smyrna; State Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton-Lewes; State Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna; and State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown.
There are currently 30 states with a capital punishment statute. The federal government and the U.S. military also have the ability to use that option.
* Assumes the defendant does not waive the right to a trial by jury.