Execution or life in prison? Delaware Supreme Court to decide
State Supreme Court Justices didn’t filter their comments much during a hearing Wednesday that could let those currently on death row live the rest of their life in prison.
Earlier this year, the court ruled Delaware’s capital punishment system unconstitutional because juries weren’t the ones ultimately responsible for locking in a death penalty conviction.
Previously, juries decided whether a defendant was eligible for a death sentence, but then a judge weighed different factors to hand down his or her ruling.
The test case before the court is that of Derrick Powell, who shot and killed Georgetown police officer Chad Spicer in 2009.
His lawyer, Patrick Collins, says continuing to execute death row inmates who were convicted under an unconstitutional system flies in the face of precedent.
“Executing Derrick Powell would far and away be an extreme outlier as opposed to just about any other state that has considered the question,” he said.
Justice Collins Seitz Jr. openly agreed later in the hearing.
“How could it ever be just to execute someone who was sentenced under a flawed statute? I don’t understand how that’s just,” Seitz said.
Maryland legislatively abolished its death penalty in 2013 without including those already convicted and facing execution. Then Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) later commuted the sentences of the four men on death row to life in prison in 2015.
State prosecutors rebutted that these sentences should remain intact because this court previously said new rulings on constitutional issues can’t necessarily be applied retroactively. There are two exceptions, but prosecutors argue they don’t apply here.
After repeatedly interrupting during the state’s presentation, Chief Justice Leo Strine told the deputy attorney general he had yet to flesh out his argument.
The state Supreme Court will issue its ruling in the coming months.