Markell signs bill modifying mandatory sentencing

WILMINGTON — Gov. Jack Markell signed into law Tuesday a bill eliminating some mandatory life punishments and giving judges more freedom in sentencing non-violent offenders.

The law, which changes the state’s “three strikes” statute, removes drug crimes from the list of violent felonies and ends mandatory life in prison for multi-offense felons. Sponsored by Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, Senate Bill 163 passed the General Assembly this year with some limited bipartisan support.

“The trend of stiffer mandatory sentences for an increasing number of crimes hasn’t worked,” Gov. Markell, a Democrat, said in a statement.

“I’m proud to sign into law this common-sense reform that provides new opportunities for those who don’t pose a threat to public safety to return to their families and contribute to our society, while ensuring dangerous offenders are appropriately sentenced to long prison terms.”

In the debate on the Senate floor in March, supporters said there are 519 habitual offenders in Delaware jails, with 79 serving life.

“This legislation is designed to address some irrational and disproportionate minimum mandatory jail sentences — such as one that provides the same minimum mandatory sentence for someone who burglarizes a house as for someone who commits murder — while still allowing judges the discretion to provide longer sentences when they deem necessary,” Attorney General Matt Denn, a Democrat, said in a statement.

“It is a meaningful step in reforming one aspect of the criminal justice system that disproportionately punished non-violent offenders while preserving public safety and continuing long prison sentences for those who deserve them.”

Under the new law, anyone convicted under the old statute can petition for a sentence modification after serving any applicable mandatory minimum sentence.

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