Newsworks | by Zoë Read
Delaware is on its way to restoring the death penalty after the state’s high court ruled it unconstitutional last year.
The House voted 24-16 Tuesday to reinstate capital punishment. The legislation must now pass in the Senate before it hits Gov. John Carney’s desk.
Last year, Delaware’s Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional because it leaves the final sentencing decision to a judge and not a jury.
The measure sponsored by Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, calls for a unanimous jury decision, and a judge’s agreement, to apply the death penalty.
On Tuesday, lawmakers opposing the measure argued capital punishment is morally wrong. They cited the possibility of putting an innocent person to death and systematic racial disparities in the system.
“The death penalty is inherently flawed in its application,” said Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, who last year introduced legislation to abolish the death penalty. “In that battle between emotion and reason [I ask] we appeal to reason, and not emotion.”
Rep. Charles Potter, D-Wilmington, opened up about losing his nephew to murder more than 7 years ago. He also cautioned proponents who might be responding to this year’s killings of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd and state trooper Cpl. Stephen Ballard.
“The emotion at first is to kill someone else. What is that going to do? Do we have a right to make that decision? We went against saying, ‘We want this person executed,’” Potter said.
“You can’t bring back people who lost their life, we wish we could. We all love our officers, and I believe the right thing to do is education and life in prison.”
Brendan O’Neill, Chief Defender of the Office of Defense, also testified against the bill, arguing the death penalty is costly, fraught with error, is not a crime deterrent and has become racially discriminatory.
But Smyk and a majority of Representatives dismissed those arguments.
“I think you have to look at all the criminal justice system, and I don’t think the death penalty, when you look at aggravating circumstances, which constitutes the use of the death penalty, I fail to find anything in there that’s racially motivated,” he said after the vote.
State Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, failed in an attempt to table the bill. The legislation had support from both parties, including State Rep. Melanie George Smith, D-Bear/Newark, who voted to abolish the death penalty last year.
Rep. Lynn said he believes part of the support for Smyk’s bill is due to emotions sparked form the deaths of Floyd and Ballard.
“It is not unanticipated. I’m not surprised. That being said, I’m disappointed,” he said. “When you have a meritorious argument supported by facts and data its disappointing when people vote purely on emotion and can’t rebut some of the strong arguments against it.”