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(Photo: MGN Online)(Photo: MGN Online)

DOVER, Del.- Some Delaware lawmakers are again attempting to re-instate capital punishment after the existing bill was ruled unconstitutional in 2016.

A bipartisan bill seeking to restore capital punishment in Delaware is being circulated for sponsorship in the General Assembly.

Sponsors of the Extreme Crimes Protection Act said Tuesday its enactment would reinstate a needed punitive option for those found guilty of the state’s worst crimes, while also acting as a restraining factor against the commission of such acts.

Previous attempts to pass similar bills have failed in years after prior years since the state Supreme Court ruled the existing statute was unconstitutional on Aug. 2, 2016.

Gov. John Carney (D) has said he would only consider supporting a bill bringing back capital punishment if the bill is limited to applying the death penalty to people who kill law enforcement officers.

Similar bills have received affirmative votes in the state House in recent years but have not been passed in the Senate. It is unclear how much support the bill will have this session following significant turnover among members in the House and Senate.

Under the new bill:

  • No one convicted on a verdict of “guilty, but mentally ill” would be subject to capital punishment.
  • Capital punishment could not be imposed unless a jury* unanimously and “beyond a reasonable doubt” found one or more aggravating circumstances that made the offense eligible for capital punishment.
  • The scope of the aggravating circumstances to be considered under the sentencing process has been narrowed.
  • A jury would have the discretion to give “appropriate weight to any mitigating circumstances” (factors that lessen the severity or culpability of a criminal act), even if their existence had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • For capital punishment to be imposed, a jury would have to unanimously find that the aggravating factors had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and that they outweighed the mitigating factors.
  • For capital punishment to be implemented, the presiding judge would need to agree with the jury’s findings and impose the sentence.
  • Where appropriate, the presiding judge would also have to weigh if the defendant had “an intellectual disability” at the time the crime was committed.  If the judge found “clear and convincing” evidence that such an impairment existed, capital punishment could not be imposed.

* Assumes the defendant does not waive the right to a trial by jury.

The measure’s initial prime sponsors are:  State Rep. William Carson, D-Smyrna; R-Milton-Lewes; State Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton-Lewes; State Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna; and State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown.

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