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State Senate Majority Leader proposes removing cash bail for high-level offenses in Delaware

Delaware Legislative Hall
Delaware Public Media
Delaware Legislative Hall

The Delaware Constitution currently provides a right to bail for all types of crimes, but Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend (D-Newark) wants to change that.

Townsend introduced two pieces of legislation Tuesday with the intention of revoking the opportunity for pretrial release in capital murder cases and other high-level felonies outlined in the bill and as deemed fit by the General Assembly.

He explains other circumstances must be met in non-capital cases for bail to be revoked, including evidence that the offender would be a threat to public safety if offered a conditional release.

Townsend says the two pieces of legislation are an effort to make the justice system more equitable in regards to the financial means of offenders.

“If they’re dangerous but have resources, they get out. If they’re dangerous, but poor, they stay in, and that should not be what drives this decision. It should be if they are a danger to the community," he said.

Under the legislation, detention-eligible defendants would be provided counsel at the initial and following hearings, and it would require courts to hold a full preventive detention hearing within 10 days of the defendant’s arrest.

Townsend says the legislation improves procedural fairness by permitting courts to make transparent decisions about who to detain and who to release pretrial.

“Bail should not be used as a very imperfect tool with regard to higher level offenses if a high resource person can just get out, but a low resource person can’t," he said.

Both bills will require a two-thirds vote to pass in the House and the Senate, where they currently await consideration.

If passed this year, the constitutional amendment will have to be voted on again in a subsequent General Assembly in order to be codified.

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.