Death penalty arguments to be heard by Delaware Supreme Court

DOVER — The Delaware Supreme Court hears arguments on the constitutionality of the state’s death penalty today, bringing an issue that has been debated for months closer to conclusion — and potentially opening up a whole new deliberation.

Rauf v. State of Delaware will be argued at 9:30, with the Department of Justice and Public Defender’s Office representing opposing sides. The Department of Justice contends the state’s capital punishment statute is not in violation of the U.S. Constitution, while the Public Defender’s Office believes it contradicts the right to jury trial.

Anyone interested can watch online at https://livestream.com/DelawareSupremeCourt/.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida’s death penalty is unconstitutional because it allows the judge to sentence death. Delaware’s death penalty law has similarities to Florida’s, with a judge having some sway over whether to sentence a person to death.

Even if the court rules that portion of the law is unconstitutional, it may not strike down the death penalty as a whole. If the justices hold, however, the language in question is invalid and cannot be separated from the greater death penalty provision, capital punishment in the state would be at least temporarily eliminated.

Responsibility would fall to the General Assembly to craft a new law, and there may be enough opponents of capital punishment in the two Democratic-controlled chambers to block an attempt to overhaul the law.

Santino Ceccotti and Elizabeth McFarlan are the lead attorneys for the Public Defender and Justice Department, respectively.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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