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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Death penalty arguments to be heard by Delaware Supreme Court

The Delaware Supreme Court hears arguments on the constitutionality of the state's death penalty today, bringing an issue that has been debated for months closer to conclusion - and potentially opening up a whole new deliberation.

Rauf v. State of Delaware will be argued at 9:30, with the Department of Justice and Public Defender's Office representing opposing sides. 

The Department of Justice contends the state's capital punishment statute is not in violation of the U.S. Constitution, while the Public Defender's Office believes it contradicts the right to jury trial.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida's death penalty is unconstitutional because it allows the judge to sentence death. Delaware's death penalty law has similarities to Florida's, with a judge having some sway over whether to sentence a person to death.

Even if the court rules that portion of the law is unconstitutional, it may not strike down the death penalty as a whole. If the justices hold, however, the language in question is invalid and cannot be separated from the greater death penalty provision, capital punishment in the state would be at least temporarily eliminated.

Responsibility would fall to the General Assembly to craft a new law, and there may be enough opponents of capital punishment in the two Democratic-controlled chambers to block an attempt to overhaul the law.

Santino Ceccotti and Elizabeth McFarlan are the lead attorneys for the Public Defender and Justice Department, respectively.

Source: Delaware State News, June 15, 2016


Delaware justices hear arguments on death penalty law

Delaware's Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of the state's death penalty.

The court agreed in January to answer questions from Delaware's Superior Court to determine whether the state's death penalty law meets constitutional muster. Meanwhile, all death penalty trials in Delaware are on hold.

Questions were raised about the constitutionality of Delaware's law after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year struck down Florida's death penalty sentencing statute. That statute required a judge, not a jury, to find the factual existence of an "aggravating circumstance" making a defendant eligible for the death penalty.

Delaware's law is similar to Florida's, but prosecutors argue that it nevertheless is constitutional.

In advance of Wednesday's hearing, the court accepted written briefs from the attorney general's office and public defender's office.

Source: Associated Press, June 15, 2016

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