DOVER, Del. - Lawmakers in Delaware have proposed a bill that would once again allow prosecutors the ability to seek the death penalty in the state after Delaware's Supreme Court struck down capital punishment last summer.
The bill, dubbed the Extreme Crimes Prevention Act, would address issues in Delaware Code that the state's supreme court cited for their decision to overturn the death penalty. Supporters of the bill say that Delaware's capital punishment law remains part of Delaware Code, but that prosecutors cannot seek it at trial until these issues are fixed.
The Extreme Crimes Prevention Act would reportedly prohibit capital punishment from being imposed unless a jury unanimously found beyond a reasonable doubt at least one aggravating circumstance eligible for capital punishment. Additionally, a jury would need to vote unanimously that aggravating factors alleged by prosecutors were proven beyond a reasonable doubt and outweigh any mitigating factors cited by the defendant. A judge would have to agree with the jury on these same circumstances.
A jury would also be able to consider mitigating circumstances alleged by the defendant, even if those factors could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, something that supporting lawmakers say works in favor of the defendant.
The bill currently has support from both Republicans and Democrats in both of Delaware's legislative chambers.
"It is impossible to quantify a crime not committed, but I believe the threat of capital punishment has altered criminal behavior and saved lives," Republican State Representative Steve Smyk of Milton and Lewes said. "The reforms our bill will apply will restore an aspect of the Delaware Code that I believe deters crimes and protects the public."
Democrat State Representative William Carson of Smyrna says he understands that capital punishment is a controversial and divisive topic, but supports the bill. Speaking on the death penalty, Representative Carson says, "While there are lingering questions about the equity of its application, that is a separate issue than determining if it should remain an option for those convicted of atrocious crimes."
Lawmakers say they plan to file the bill next week in the state House of Representatives where it is expected to go to the Judiciary Committee for consideration.