The General Assembly passed 11 criminal justice bills this session, and two have been signed into law.
A bill that gives more discretion to judges in sentencing moved through the state Senate June 25, passing on a 20-1 vote, and was signed by Gov. John Carney the same day.
House Bill 5 had passed the House June 11 by a 30-10 vote with one absent. Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel, was absent while the majority of Sussex County Republicans voted against the bill, which allows judges greater discretion to impose sentences for multiple crimes concurrently rather than consecutively, and gives them the ability to consider the facts of each case and a defendant’s history when handing down prison time.
“Our court system should be focused on fairness and rehabilitation, not vengeance and retribution,” said bill sponsor Senate Majority Leader Nicole Poore, D-New Castle. “This is about reducing one-size-fits-all sentencing.”
The bill continues a reform effort that began in 2014 when the General Assembly passed legislation to end Delaware’s status as the only state in the nation that required consecutive sentencing in all cases without any judicial input, officials said.
The bill expands the types of criminal cases in which judges can decide whether prison sentences for multiple charges can be served at the same time instead of one after another. The legislation does not guarantee concurrent sentences, but it allows judges to make the decision they feel is most appropriate in each case. Sentences for some of the most heinous crimes would still be served consecutively, such as first- and second-degree murder, first- and second-degree rape, and most child sex abuse cases.
Attorney General Kathleen Jennings has supported the bill as part of a bigger package of criminal justice bills announced in March.
“Delawareans want and deserve a criminal justice system that reflects our values: one that judges us fairly and equally regardless of our race, our income, or our ZIP code; one that marries progress and public safety; and one that balances accountability today with opportunity tomorrow,” Jennings said. “Delaware leaders are delivering on that promise with the boldest package of criminal and juvenile justice reforms in modern Delaware history. House Bill 5 is an indispensable part of that package.”
A second bill signed into law June 30 is Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 37 which expands arrests and convictions that qualify for expungement from an adult criminal record. The bill unanimously passed the Senate April 17 and passed the House June 26 by a 35-5 vote with one absent. Voting no were Republican representatives Dan Short, Seaford; Ron Gray, Selbyville; Charles Postles, Milford; and Jesse Vanderwende, Bridgeville. Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, was absent.
Other bills that await Gov. John Carney's signature are:
• Senate Bill 47 would simplify Delaware's drug code by removing certain sentencing enhancements that increase penalties for crimes committed in areas such as schools. Drug dealing, however, would retain higher, felony-level charges. The bill unanimously passed the Sentate May 16, and passed the House 28-12 with one absent June 26. Republican representatives voted against the bill including Ruth Briggs King, Georgetown; Richard Collins, Millsboro; Dan Short, Seaford; Tim Dukes, Laurel; Ron Gray, Selbyville; Charles Postles, Milford; Bryan Shupe, Milford; and Jesse Vanderwende, Bridgeville. Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, was absent.
• House Bill 124 unanimously passed the Senate June 26 after passing the House June 18 by a vote of 38-1 with two absent. Voting against the bill was Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro. Rep. Ruth Briggs Kings, R-Georgetown, was absent. The bill gives the licensing board discretion to waive some convictions, making it easier for people convicted of a crime to obtain a license as a plumber or HVAC technician and pursue employment.
Bills passed on June 30, the last working day for legislators in 2019, include:
• Senate Bill 43, a bill to modify the impact of criminal history on an applicant’s eligibility for licensure by the Board of Electrical Examiners.
• Senate Bill 44, which makes possession or consumption of alcohol by an individual under 21 years of age a civil offense. It also would prohibit including information concerning a civil violation of the underage possession or consumption law on an individual’s certified criminal record.
• House Bill 7, a bill to modify the impact of criminal history on an applicant’s eligibility for licensure by the Board of Massage and Bodywork.
• House Bill 77, which would simplify the burglary code to eliminate duplication by combining the burglary and home invasion sections, and aligning minimum mandatory sentences.
• House Bill 78, which would simplify the robbery code to eliminate duplication. It combines the robbery and carjacking sections while preserving enhancements recognizing the seriousness of carjacking.
• Senate Bill 45, a bill that makes the possession, use, or consumption of a personal-use quantity of marijuana a civil violation for juveniles.
• Senate Bill 41, which would establish that the age of offense, not the age of arrest, determines jurisdiction for a young person facing charges.