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Police use of force changes head to governor's desk

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

The House passes a bill changing the use of force standard in Delaware, and it now heads to Gov. Carney’s desk.


The bill is part of a series of police reform bills and seeks to create an objective use of force standard.

It states the use of lethal and non-lethal force is only justified if the belief is determined to be reasonable.  Currently, deadly force can be used when an officer believes it’s justified.

The bill also makes clear that the use of a chokehold is deadly force.

State Rep. Sean Lynn (D-Dover) opposed the bill saying the legislation as written goes beyond the police.

"This bill goes well, well, well beyond that such that it deals with use of force by average Delawareans, and in that regard significantly upends 50 years of justification defense in case law that this is not something that we ought to enter into lightly," said Lynn.

The bill’s sponsor State Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker (D-Wilmington) says changing to an objective standard is important when the state of mind is an issue in a criminal trial.

"Such as when the judge or jury must decide as to what someone believed, knew, or intended at a given time. Justification law as currently written uses the term defendant believes throughout several sections," said Walker. "This act makes it clear at the determination of one's state of mind is an objective standard -that is what a reasonable person would have believed - questions rather than what the defendant believed"

House lawmakers also passed legislation expanding the state Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust’s review of deadly use of force incidents by police to include cases involving physical injury, and if a public report is issued it must include the race of the person the force was used on.

Any report must also say whether race was a relevant or motivating factor.

Joe brings over 20 years of experience in news and radio to Delaware Public Media and the All Things Considered host position. He joined DPM in November 2019 as a reporter and fill-in ATC host after six years as a reporter and anchor at commercial radio stations in New Castle and Sussex Counties.