Delaware Eliminates Death in Prison Sentences for Children


On June 4, 2013, Delaware Governor Jack A. Markell signed Senate Bill 9, which eliminates juvenile life imprisonment without possibility of release by providing for sentence review for all children who were sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.

The new law responds to the United States Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Graham v. Florida, which banned life imprisonment without parole for juvenile nonhomicide offenders, by providing that a person sentenced to more than 20 years for nonhomicide crimes can petition the trial court for a sentence review after serving 20 years. The sentence review requires the court to determine whether the person has been rehabilitated and should be eligible for release.

In response to Miller v. Alabama, the 2012 decision that barred mandatory life imprisonment without parole for all youth convicted of homicide, the new law replaces automatic life-without-parole for first-degree murder with a sentencing range of 25 years up to life imprisonment. Youth sentenced to life imprisonment for first-degree murder may petition for a reduction in their sentence after serving 30 years.

Any Delaware prisoner who received a mandatory life-without-parole sentence for a juvenile offense is now entitled to a new sentencing hearing using the new sentencing range of 25 years to life.

EJI argued Miller v. Alabama and the companion case to Graham v. Florida at the United States Supreme Court as part of our national effort to challenge excessive sentences imposed on children.