Delaware’s Supreme Court said the state’s rules for imposing the death penalty are unconstitutional, a decision that could mean an effective end to capital punishment in Delaware, the New York Times reports. The court said Delaware’s death penalty law gave judges, rather than juries, too great a role in imposing death sentences, violating constitutional requirements that the U.S. Supreme Court laid out in a January decision that has brought executions in Florida to a temporary halt.
The Delaware legislature came close to abolishing the death penalty this year, but the debate was put on hold to await the ruling that was issued yesterday. There appeared little chance that the high court would overturn the decision, said Eric Freedman, an expert on capital punishment at Hofstra University’s law school. “This probably means, as a practical matter, the end of the death penalty in Delaware,” he said. Delaware carried out its last execution in 2012 and has 14 prisoners on death row. The death penalty has been abolished in 18 other states, and executions have been delayed in many others because of a scarcity of lethal injection drugs and disputes over execution procedures. Until recently, Delaware was one of three states, with Florida and Alabama, that allowed judges to decide if the circumstances of a crime warranted the death penalty.