Delaware death penalty ruled unconstitutional by State Supreme Court

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Delaware Rules Death Penalty Law Unconstitutional

The State Supreme Court of Delaware struck down the state's death penalty laws on Tuesday, ruling that sentencing convicts to the ultimate punishment is unconstitutional.

According to the Atlantic, the court decided standing Delaware laws on the death penalty — which gave judges, not juries, the power to sentence people to death — was a violation of the Sixth Amendment rather than the more common objection to the death penalty based on the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment." Whether the death penalty in Delaware continues now depends on whether the state General Assembly amends statutes to give death penalty power to juries, reported the News Journal. The paper reported such a legislative fix seems "tough," since the state Senate narrowly passed a bill to abolish the death penalty altogether earlier this year.

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Per the Atlantic, the distinguishing factor this year was a January U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hurst v. Florida which ruled unconstitutional a Florida law giving juries only the right to issue an "advisory" sentence, after which judges were free to assign the death penalty or not. Florida is now in a court battle to retain its revised version of the law, reported the New York Times. Alabama, the third state to delegate death penalty decisions to judges, saw a string of cases remanded back to state courts as of early June, though its law remains in effect.

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Dave Atwood, left, and Sophia Malik, right, both of Houston, hold photos of Napoleon Beazley as they protest his execution Tuesday, May 28, 2002, in Huntsville, Texas. Beazley, 25, was executed by lethal injection for the 1994 carjacking murder of 63-year-old John E. Luttig of Tyler, Texas. It was the 14th execution this year in Texas. (AP Photo/Brett Coomer)
Rena, left, and Ireland Beazley hold a photo of their son Napoleon Beazley at their home in Grapeland, Texas, Friday, May 31, 2002. Napoleon Beazley's death sentence for killing the father of a federal judge during a 1994 carjacking at age 17 stirred national debate over capital punishment for youths. (AP Photo/Donna McWilliam)
Rena Beazley, left, and her husband, Ireland, from Grapeland, Texas, are shown in the audience during a news conference Thursday, May 23, 2002, in Austin, Texas. The two, parents of Texas death row inmate Napoleon Beazley, and clergy pleaded for his sentence to be commuted to life in prison. He is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Tuesday. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Mugshot of Cameron Todd Willingham

(Photo credit: Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

Judy Cavnar, of Ardmore, Okla., a cousin of executed Texas prison inmate Cameron Todd Willingham, displays a picture of him during a news conference Tuesday, May 2, 2006, in Austin, Texas. The case of a Willingham, who maintained his innocence until the end but was executed after he was convicted of an arson murder, is going before a new state commission required to look into allegations of forensic misconduct. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
Eugenia Willingham of Ardmore, Okla., right, wipes a tear as she speaks during a news conference Tuesday, May 2, 2006, in Austin, Texas. Willingham and other relatives of Cameron Todd Willingham recounted the final moments of Willingham's life and their unsuccessful attempts to block his execution. The New York-based Innocence Project submitted the case to the Texas Forensic Science Commission on Tuesday and also asked the panel to review arson convictions statewide. In the background, from left are Willingham's cousins, Pat Cox, and Judy Cavnar. Mrs. Willingham is his stepmother. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
Death row inmate Troy Davis appears in this undated file photo provided by the Georgia Department of Corrections. (Georgia Department of Corrections/MCT via Getty Images)
Demonstrators gather in front of the White House in Washington as they hold a vigil before the scheduled execution of death row inmate Troy Davis, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011. Davis is facing lethal injection for killing an off-duty Georgia policeman in Savannah, a crime he and others have insisted for years that he did not commit. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
A man chants during a vigil for Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis In Jackson, Ga., Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011. Davis is scheduled to die Wednesday for the killing off-duty Savannah officer Mark MacPhail. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Anne MacPhail pauses for a moment after learning at 10:55 p.m., on September 21, 2011, that the U.S. Supreme Court had denied a stay of execution for Troy Davis, who was convicted in the 1989 murder of her son Mark MacPhail. Davis was executed shortly after in Jackson, Georgia. (Robin Trimarchi/Columbus Ledger-Enquirer/MCT via Getty Images)

Mugshot of Kelly Renee Gissendaner

(Photo credit: Georgia Department of Corrections)


If the state legislature does not amend the law to resume executions in Delaware, the state will join the 19 states with prohibitions on death sentences.

However, ending the death penalty in the state may have a minimal impact on the number of people put to death. According to the Delaware Department of Correction's website, just six people have been executed in the state since the turn of the century.

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