Capital punishment in Delaware

Capital punishment is no longer used in the U.S. state of Delaware. The state's capital sentencing scheme was declared unconstitutional by the Delaware Supreme Court on August 2, 2016.[1] The ruling will retroactively apply to earlier death sentences.[2] Despite this ruling, the capital statute for first-degree murder under Title 11, Chapter 42, Section 09 of the Delaware Code has yet to be repealed.

Prior to this, it had the third highest number of executions per capita behind Oklahoma and Texas. 16 people were executed in the state after the Gregg v. Georgia decision of 1976.[3]

Former status[edit]

Legal process[edit]

Delaware was one of the three states, along with Alabama and Florida, where the judge may override a jury decision. The statute was struck down in 2016 because the judge decided not only the sentence itself, but also some factual findings necessary to make the defendant eligible for capital punishment.

The Governor was allowed to grant a commutation of the death sentence, but only after receiving a Recommendation of Clemency From a Board or Advisory Group. The only post-Furman pardon was granted by Gov. Jack Markell on January 17, 2012 to Robert Gattis.[4]

Capital crimes[edit]

Murder was punishable by death when it involved at least one of the following aggravating factors:[5]

  1. The murder was committed by a person in, or who has escaped from, the custody of a law enforcement officer or place of confinement.
  2. The murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing an arrest or for the purpose of effecting an escape from custody.
  3. The murder was committed against any law enforcement officer, corrections employee, firefighter, paramedic, emergency medical technician, fire marshal or fire police officer while such victim was engaged in the performance of official duties.
  4. The murder was committed against a judicial officer, a former judicial officer, Attorney General, former Attorney General, Assistant or Deputy Attorney General or former Assistant or Deputy Attorney General, State Detective or former State Detective, Special Investigator or former Special Investigator, during, or because of, the exercise of an official duty.
  5. The murder was committed against a person who was held or otherwise detained as a shield or hostage.
  6. The murder was committed against a person who was held or detained by the defendant for ransom or reward.
  7. The murder was committed against a person who was a witness to a crime and who was killed for the purpose of preventing the witness's appearance or testimony in any grand jury, criminal or civil proceeding involving such crime, or in retaliation for the witness's appearance or testimony in any grand jury, criminal or civil proceeding involving such crime.
  8. The defendant paid or was paid by another person or had agreed to pay or be paid by another person or had conspired to pay or be paid by another person for the killing of the victim.
  9. The defendant was previously convicted of another murder or manslaughter or of a felony involving the use of, or threat of, force or violence upon another person.
  10. The murder was committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of, or attempt to commit, or flight after committing or attempting to commit any degree of rape, unlawful sexual intercourse, arson, kidnapping, robbery, sodomy, burglary, or home invasion.
  11. The defendant's course of conduct resulted in the deaths of 2 or more persons where the deaths are a probable consequence of the defendant's conduct.
  12. The murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, use of an explosive device or poison or the defendant used such means on the victim prior to murdering the victim.
  13. The defendant caused or directed another to commit murder or committed murder as an agent or employee of another person.
  14. The defendant was under a sentence of life imprisonment, whether for natural life or otherwise, at the time of the commission of the murder.
  15. The murder was committed for pecuniary gain.
  16. The victim was pregnant.
  17. The victim was particularly vulnerable due to a severe intellectual, mental or physical disability.
  18. The victim was 62 years of age or older.
  19. The victim was a child 14 years of age or younger, and the murder was committed by an individual who is at least 4 years older than the victim.
  20. At the time of the killing, the victim was or had been a nongovernmental informant or had otherwise provided any investigative, law enforcement or police agency with information concerning criminal activity, and the killing was in retaliation for the victim's activities as a nongovernmental informant or in providing information concerning criminal activity to an investigative, law enforcement or police agency.
  21. The murder was premeditated and the result of substantial planning. Such planning must be as to the commission of the murder itself and not simply as to the commission or attempted commission of any underlying felony.
  22. The murder was committed for the purpose of interfering with the victim's free exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege or immunity protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, or because the victim has exercised or enjoyed said rights, or because of the victim's race, religion, color, disability, national origin or ancestry.[6]


On June 13, 1986, lethal injection became the default method for execution. Hanging was an alternative for those whose offense occurred prior to that date, but in July 2003 no remaining death row inmates were eligible to choose this alternative, and Delaware dismantled its gallows.[7]

The last judicial execution by hanging in the United States was carried out in Delaware on January 25, 1996 against convicted murderer Billy Bailey.[8]

Death row[edit]

Delaware's death row for males was located at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna. Female death row prisoners were housed at the Delores J. Baylor Women's Correctional Institution in New Castle.

Reinstatement bill[edit]

In 2017, a bill was proposed by Rep. Steve Smyk to reinstate the state death penalty.[9] The proposal gained support after the murders of police officer Stephen Ballard and of corrections officer Steven Floyd Sr. in a February 2017 riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware.[10][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reyes, Jessica Masulli (2016-08-12). "Top court: Delaware's death penalty law unconstitutional". Delaware Online. Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "State Execution Rates". Retrieved 2017-11-24.
  4. ^ Clemency
  5. ^ Delaware Code § 4209
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ "Methods of Execution". Archived from the original on 2008-07-03. Retrieved 2015-07-09.
  8. ^ [2]
  9. ^ Chase, Randall (4 May 2017). "Delaware House postpones vote on reinstating death penalty". Washington Post. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  10. ^ Albright, Matthew (3 May 2017). "Delaware death penalty supporters pass first test". The News Journal. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  11. ^ Kelkar, Kamala (5 May 2017). "Delaware returns to death penalty debate after prison uprising". San Francisco Bay View. Retrieved 8 May 2017.