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Delaware lawmakers introduce 19 bills to overhaul criminal justice system

Sarah Mueller
Delaware Public Media
Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings speaks at press conference announcing criminal justice bills.

Delaware lawmakers are offering an ambitious plan to revamp the state’s criminal justice system.

State Attorney General Kathy Jennings joined legislators in both chambers to introduce a slate of 19 bills revising laws impacting adult and youth offenders.

The measures are the result of a collaboration between mostly Democratic lawmakers, Jennings and the Office of Defense Services. They address laws impacting adult and juvenile offenders.

Some of the proposed legislation would reclassify some drug-related felonies as nonviolent, allow judges to make more sentences run concurrently and bar prosecuting children under age 12 years old for most crimes.

Jennings said it’s time to be bold and push for comprehensive reforms.

“Ain’t no mountain high enough to get this done right," she said. "There inevitability will be stakeholders who have concerns and we wanted to get this out in the public domain so that there would be sufficient time to address those concerns.”

Some of the proposals call for allowing more adults to get criminal records expunged, making some drug-related felonies nonviolent and reducing the size of drug-free school zones.

Dubard McGriff is now a community organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware. But at 16 years old, he was convicted as an adult for robbery and spent four years in prison. He said teens that age don’t really have the capacity to understand the legal process.

“When I went into the courthouse, it was all on me," he said. "It was no mother speaking for me, it was no father speaking for me, all of the decisions was on Dubard. And the science is saying now your brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. You know, I was a 16-year-old child making a life-changing decision.”

Fewer youths could be sentenced as adults under one of the bills. It ties the jurisdiction to the age of the juvenile when they committed the crime and instead of their age at the time of arrest. But prosecutors would still be able to charge minors as adults.

A spokesman for Gov. John Carney said the governor supports making the criminal justice system more fair.
Republican Minority Leader Danny Short said he would like to hear what law enforcement and the courts have to say about the proposals, but adds he’s open to supporting some of the ideas.

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