Last month, the Delaware Supreme Court struck down the state’s death penalty statute after finding that the statute violates the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury. Since then, the state’s top prosecutor has announced that he will not challenge that decision, which means no one can be sentenced to death in Delaware.
Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn said he will not appeal the August 2 decision, which found that Delaware’s death penalty statute has the same constitutional defects that led the United States Supreme Court in Hurst v. Florida to strike down Florida’s capital punishment law earlier this year. “After carefully reviewing the Delaware Supreme Court’s opinion regarding the constitutionality of Delaware’s current death penalty statute,” Mr. Denn’s office said in a statement, “the Attorney General has decided not to appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court.”
The statement added that appealing and litigating these issues would likely take years and “would likely not only bring about the same result, but would also deny the families of victims sentencing finality.”
In addition to the Delaware Supreme Court striking down the state’s death penalty statute, state lawmakers nearly abolished the death penalty last session, and Delaware Governor Jack Markell supports abolition, describing the death penalty as “an instrument of imperfect justice that doesn’t make us any safer.” The heavily-favored Democratic candidate for governor, United States Congressman John Carney, opposes capital punishment as well.
Only three states (Alabama, Delaware, and Florida) had capital sentencing schemes that permitted a judge to override a jury’s recommendation of a life sentence before Hurst. After Hurst, Florida abolished judge override.
Now that the Delaware Attorney General has decided not to appeal, Alabama is the only state in the country that fails to ensure that the jury, not a judge, finds each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death.