Delaware Rules Death Penalty Unconstitutional

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Delaware Rules Death Penalty Unconstitutional

Delaware's most recent execution took place in 2012

The state Supreme Court found Delaware's death penalty statute in violation of the Sixth Amendment. (Photo: J. Stephen Conn/flickr/cc)

In a landmark decision (pdf), the Delaware Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the state's death penalty law is unconstitutional. 

The majority found that the state's death penalty violated the Sixth Amendment, as it allowed a judge to override a jury's recommendation of a life sentence and impose a death sentence instead.

The ruling followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January that overturned portions of Florida's death penalty statute for the same reason. That decision, Hurst v. Florida, found that "[t]he Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death."

In Tuesday's ruling, Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. wrote: "I am unable to discern in the Sixth Amendment any dividing line between the decision that someone is eligible for death and the decision that he should in fact die."

Alabama is now the only remaining state that gives judges the final say on imposing a death sentence, Delaware Online notes. In total, 32 states still allow the death penalty.

"All pending capital murder trials and executions for the 14 men on death row are currently on hold while the court considered the constitutionality issue," according to Delaware Online. 

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Delaware's most recent execution took place in 2012.

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