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Del. Supreme Court asked to review state's death penalty law

Tom Byrne/Delaware Public Media

A Delaware judge is looking for guidance from the state’s top court as to whether he can legally wield the death penalty after a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

That ruling found Florida’s capital punishment structure unconstitutional, as the jury can only recommend a death sentence, while the judge has the final power.


Delaware’s system is similar, though a jury here has to unanimously agree there are aggravating factors in a particular case to warrant the death penalty. Otherwise, a defendant gets life in prison if convicted.


State Public Defender Brendan O’Neill called Superior Court Judge Paul Wallace’s decision a “wise and prudent” one.


“It makes sense to have the Supreme Court resolve this issue before all parties – the state, the defense and the court – spend extraordinary amounts of time, energy and resources,” said O'Neill.


There are currently 39 capital cases awaiting trial in Delaware, according to O’Neill.


The state House of Representatives will debate abolishing the death penalty altogether Thursday.

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