Death penalty ruled unconstitutional in Delaware

Posted at 2:40 PM, Aug 02, 2016

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Delaware's death penalty law is unconstitutional in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, the state's high court ruled Tuesday.

In a 148-page opinion, a majority of the Delaware Supreme Court justices said the state law violates the U.S. Constitution because it allows a judge to sentence a person to death independently of a jury's recommendation.

The court also said the law is unconstitutional because it does not require jurors to be unanimous in finding aggravating circumstances that weigh in favor of the death penalty.

Questions were raised about Delaware's law after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar death penalty statute in Florida.

Santino Ceccotti, a lawyer with the Delaware public defender's office who argued the case before the Supreme Court, said he was pleased with the ruling but noted the state attorney general's office could appeal the decision in federal court.

A spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Justice said in an email that the agency is reviewing the decision.

Ceccotti said it remains to be seen whether the ruling could be applied retroactively to the 13 men currently on Delaware's death row.

"What we know for sure is that the scheme in Delaware is unconstitutional ... and that will have a direct impact on cases that are pending," he said.

Ceccotti said all defendants in cases in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty will have to be charged with a different offense.

"With this decision, capital murder is no longer an option," he said.