ACLU argues Delaware death penalty unconstitutional


DOVER — With Delaware’s capital punishment laws under review, the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware filed a brief Monday arguing the state’s death penalty statute violates the U.S. Constitution.

Delaware is one of three states that allow a judge to overrule a jury and sentence death. The U.S. Supreme Court concluded in January a similar law in Florida contradicts the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees trial by jury.

In the wake of the decision, Delaware Superior Court Judge Paul Wallace asked the state Supreme Court to weigh in on the constitutionality of the law.

The court currently is considering the request and could make a decision based on submitted briefs, or it could schedule oral arguments first.

The Delaware ACLU and the ACLU Capital Punishment Project argue in the filing with the state “the jury’s role under the Delaware capital sentencing statute is insufficient by itself to determine the facts necessary for a death sentence.”

Under Delaware law, the judge must determine if any aggravating circumstances outweigh any mitigating circumstances.

The brief provides a history of the jury’s role in sentencing an accused to death and argues Delaware’s law “cannot be distinguished from Florida’s unconstitutional weighing scheme.”

“Delaware’s death penalty scheme thus impermissibly diminishes the role of the jury from its form at common law as the arbiter of facts and mercy in capital cases,” it states.

There are currently 13 convicted murderers on the state’s death row.

Lawmakers pushing repeal legislation announced Monday they would suspend their efforts in the General Assembly while the court considers the law.

If the Supreme Court strikes down Delaware’s death penalty statute, the General Assembly would have to pass a law to reinstate capital punishment.

Eleven of 21 senators voted for repeal last year, meaning capital punishment supporters may not have the votes needed to impose a new statute.

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