Delaware’s death penalty law is unconstitutional in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from earlier this year addressing the role of the jury in handing down death sentences, the state’s Supreme Court ruled in a split decision reported Buzzfeed.
The decision expresses “the majority‘s collective view that Delaware‘s current death penalty statute violates the Sixth Amendment role of the jury as set forth in Hurst [v. Florida]” — the January U.S. Supreme Court decision addressing the jury’s essential role in the sentencing phase of a death penalty trial.
Specifically, the Delaware court found the statute to be unconstitutional because a judge, independent of the jury, can find “the existence of ‘any aggravating circumstance’” that would be required to impose a death sentence.
Additionally, the state high court ruled the statute to be unconstitutional because it does not require juror unanimity in finding such aggravating circumstances and does not require the jury to find that the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances presented. The court found that such a determination about the weighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, similarly, must be made unanimously.
Finally, the court ruled that the portions of the statute that it found to be unconstitutional are so intertwined with the remainder of the death penalty statute that it could find “no way to sever” the unconstitutional provisions, leaving “the decision whether to reinstate the death penalty—if our ruling ultimately becomes final—and under what procedures” to the state’s legislature.
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