Delaware death-penalty law violates right to jury, state supreme court rules
The Delaware Supreme Court has struck down the state’s death penalty law, ruling it gives judges too much decision-making power in violation of the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.
The court ruled on Tuesday in the case of Benjamin Rauf, a Temple University law grad accused of killing a classmate, report the New York Times, Delaware State News and the News Journal. How Appealing links to additional coverage and the opinion.
Jurors made death-penalty recommendations under the Delaware law that was struck down, but judges made the final decision. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar Florida law in January in Hurst v. Florida. The U.S. Supreme Court said the Sixth Amendment requires jurors, rather than judges, to find each fact necessary to impose the death sentence.
Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told the New York Times that the Delaware decision is important because it takes principles in the Hurst decision to their logical conclusion—that jurors must not only determine aggravating circumstances, but also must decide whether the aggravating factors outweigh mitigating circumstances. The Delaware Supreme Court also said the jury decision must be unanimous and beyond a reasonable doubt.
Florida has revised its law since the Hurst decision, but it still allows a capital sentence by a 10-2 jury vote.