Death Penalty

Case of law grad accused in slaying tests Delaware's death penalty law

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Death penalty

Corrected: The Delaware Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of the state’s death penalty statute in a case involving a law grad accused of killing a former classmate.

An assistant public defender, Santino Ceccotti, argued last Wednesday that the law should be struck down because it allows judges to weigh aggravating and mitigating factors independent of the jury, report Delaware Law Weekly, Delaware State News and the News Journal.

The court is considering the law in the case of Benjamin Rauf, a Temple University law grad accused of killing classmate Shazim Uppal in August 2015. Speculation by law enforcement was that it was a drug deal gone bad.

Only three states—Delaware, Alabama and Florida—had laws allowing judges to impose the death penalty when a jury recommends life in prison. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Florida law in January in Hurst v. Florida because it allowed judges to decide the aggravating circumstances meriting the death penalty.

The U.S. Supreme Court said the Sixth Amendment requires jurors, rather than judges, to find each fact necessary to impose the death sentence. More than two dozen capital cases in Delaware were put on hold after the decision.

Deputy Attorney General Sean Lugg argued that Delaware’s law is different from Florida’s. In Delaware, jurors must unanimously agree on an aggravating circumstance before a judge has the option of imposing a capital sentence, the News Journal explains. After finding the aggravating circumstance, jurors must decide whether aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors, but judges aren’t bound by those findings.

Lugg said the balancing and weighing process is not required to be done solely by jurors.

See also: “Alabama judge sees ‘life-to-death override epidemic,’ bars death sentences; Florida bill changes law”


Story corrected on Aug. 3 to state that Rauf is accused of killing classmate Shazim Uppal.

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