A Superior Court judge has halted all trials and penalty hearings in capital murder cases while Delaware's Supreme Court mulls the constitutionality of the state's death penalty law.
The order was issued Monday President Judge Jan Jurden, head of the Superior Court system.
Last week, the Supreme Court accepted several questions submitted by a Superior Court judge regarding the roles of judges and juries in Delaware death penalty cases.
Those questions were prompted by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The U.S. Supreme Court said Florida's death sentencing scheme was unconstitutional because a jury, not a judge, must find each fact necessary to impose a death sentence.
Delaware's sentencing scheme is similar to Florida's.
Meanwhile, a bill to abolish Delaware's death penalty was defeated in the state House last week.
Source: Associated Press, Feb. 1, 2016
First State freezes all death penalty cases
Superior Court President Judge Jan Jurden is halting all 39 of Delaware's pending death penalty cases as the state's highest court weighs the system's constitutionality.
The official stay from Jurden comes just days after another Superior Court judge asked the Delaware Supreme Court to rule on the legality of the state's capital punishment program.
Part of the First State's system resembles Florida's, which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional last month.
In Delaware, juries have to unanimously find at least 1 aggravating factor to recommend a death sentence. Then, a judge weighs all relevant information that came out at trial before either sentencing that person to die or giving them life in prison.
All but 1 Supreme Court justice found putting more power in the hands of judges unconstitutional in their recent ruling.
State lawmakers in the House rejected a bill that would overturn capital punishment in Delaware altogether last week.
The Public Defender's Office and the state will file arguments to the Delaware Supreme Court in the coming weeks, with a ruling expected before the summer.
Source: Delaware Public Media, Feb. 1, 2016