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General Assembly to consider bringing back death penalty

Tom Byrne
Delaware Public Media

Some Delaware lawmakers want to reinstate capital punishment in the First State.

The bill to bring back capital punishment is similar to 2017 legislation passed by the House last session. It died in a Senate committee.

The legislation, sponsored by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, requires a jury unanimously agree there’s at least one aggravating factor that warrants the crime deserves the death penalty and have the judge agree.

The sponsors, like State Rep. Steve Smyk  (R-Milton), said the death penalty acts as a deterrent and reduces crime.

“Delaware has a history of having the death penalty, having it actually either discontinued or being questioned so there’s a stay on the death penalty and that’s when it seems that heinous crimes actually occur,” Smyk said.

Gov. John Carney (D) said he’d only consider signing it if it is limited to those who kill law enforcement. He points to the 2017 riot at Vaughn Correctional Center where an officer died.

“Many of those people involved in it were serving life, life without parole," Carney said. "So there’s nothing worse frankly for them to do if they go and kill their correctional officer and we know that that happened,” he said.

The Delaware Supreme Court struck down the state’s death penalty as unconstitutional in 2016 because it gave judges too much discretion and allowed non-unanimous juries to recommend a death sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled a similar system in Florida unconstitutional.

The Delaware Democratic Party has released a statement opposing reinstatement of capital punishment. It says the death penalty has been arbitrarily and unjustly applied.

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