Attorney General proposes changes to gun and drug laws

DOVER — Attorney General Matt Denn on Monday laid out his legislative priorities for the upcoming session, including a second attempt at closing a “loophole” that allows certain individuals convicted of unlawfully possessing a gun to avoid a mandatory minimum sentence.

Currently, any felons prohibited from having a gun who are caught with a firearm face at least three years in jail, a sentence required by law. However, someone convicted of a violent felony at age 16 or 17 does not face a mandatory prison sentence if later arrested and found to be in possession of a firearm.

Legislation was introduced in 2015 to end this situation by creating a mandatory minimum, but despite bipartisan support, it failed to advance.

Mr. Denn said some lawmakers were hesitant to create a new mandatory minimum, although he was quick to note the Department of Justice has backed eliminating some required minimum sentences.

Speaking at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Monday, Attorney General Matt Denn said Delaware’s drug laws — as currently written — are overly complicated, (Submitted photo)

Speaking at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Monday, Attorney General Matt Denn said Delaware’s drug laws — as currently written — are overly complicated, (Submitted photo)

“This just happens to be a specific type of minimum mandatory we think is missing,” Mr. Denn, a Democrat, said.

He’s also targeting some aggravating factors for drug crimes. Drug offenses committed within designated protected areas, such as near a school, park or church, have harsher punishments.

The Department of Justice noted the aggravating factor effectively means people living in urban areas, which contain more protected places, are more likely to face stricter sentences.

The state’s drug laws are also overly complex, Mr. Denn said.

He plans to propose eliminating portions of the criminal code, such as the location factor and if the offense occurred in a car.

A new statute creating a mandatory minimum for anyone found guilty of selling drugs to a child would then be created. Current sentencing for drug crimes can be enhanced based on age difference, but the provision is complicated.

“The goal is to have the statute be more focused on problems it’s trying to solve,” Mr. Denn said.

He believes the changes, if passed by the General Assembly, will make the state’s criminal justice system fairer.

The location-based aggravating factors became law in 2011.

Mr. Denn hopes to convene a group of advocates, lawmakers, experts and others to provide a proposal for the legislature by early next year.

Weighing in on how he viewed his office’s legislative efforts in 2015 and 2016, the attorney general judged it a partial success.

Some of the initiatives that failed to gain traction can be traced back to “the fact a lot of what we are trying to do costs money and that’s something the state doesn’t have a lot of right now,” he said.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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