DOJ won’t appeal death penalty ruling

349px-Seal_of_DelawareDOVER — The Delaware Department of Justice announced Monday it will not appeal the state Supreme Court’s ruling that invalidated the death penalty earlier this month.

The decision means the matter is now in the hands of the General Assembly. Legislators will have to decide whether capital punishment should be re-instated in the state.

The court struck down the statute that gave the state power to execute convicted murderers, saying it violates the right to a trial by jury because it gives some sentencing power to a judge and does not require unanimity. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees jury trial.

The finding came after a U.S. Supreme Court case led to an investigation of the state’s death penalty, with the Department of Justice arguing for its constitutionality and the Public Defender’s Office protesting otherwise.

While the department will not appeal to the nation’s top court, it still intends to argue the ruling does not apply to the 13 men already sentenced to death in the state. Lawyers for at least some of them are expected to appeal their death sentences based on the Delaware Supreme Court’s opinion.

Attorney General Matt Denn, a Democrat, believes the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn the state court’s findings but still conclude the death penalty violates Delaware’s constitution, according to the Department of Justice.

“The Delaware Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that the Delaware Constitution provides rights to a jury trial that are independent of and in some instances more expansive than those provided by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” a statement from the attorney general’s office said. “Litigating and appealing these issues — a process that would likely take years before issues of both federal and state constitutional law were resolved — would likely not only bring about the same result but would also deny the families of victims sentencing finality.”

Mr. Denn is in support of amending the state constitution to require unanimous jury support for imposing death.

Fifteen Republican lawmakers have said they intend to sponsor legislation to bring back capital punishment next year.

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