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The Delaware DP Repeal Efforts Bullet Points

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A group called the Delaware Repeal Project has a briefing book with the usual collection of spin and half-truths.  Copied below are their "bullet points" in the front of the book, not a single one of which makes an argument of any substance, along with my comments.

• Per capita, Delaware ranks 3rd in executions among states behind Oklahoma and Texas.
Unlike many other states, such as California and Pennsylvania, Delaware has succeeded in carrying out a large percentage of well-deserved death sentences for horrible crimes.  For example, there was David Laurie, who burned down a house to kill his wife and also burned to death three children.  Carrying out sentences in cases such as this when other states are unable to do so is an accomplishment for Delaware to be proud of, not a reason to let such killers off with life in the future.

In states where the death penalty has been obstructed, repeal proponents cite the obstruction as a reason to repeal.  In Delaware, repeal proponents cite nonobstruction as a reason to repeal.
• Since 1992, Delaware has conducted 16 executions. Comparatively, California has executed only 13 men despite having the largest death row in the country. Pennsylvania, with a death row of nearly 200, has only executed 3 men in the last 20 years. In February 2015, citing ongoing concerns with fairness issues and a pending study commission report, Pennsylvania Governor Wolf declared a moratorium on executions in that state.
Imitating California and Pennsylvania is the last thing the people of any state should want to do in this area.

• Of the 15 men on Delaware's death row (as of March 1, 2015), 4 are white (27%), 8 black (53%), and 3 are Hispanic (20%). This means that 73% of the death row population is comprised of minorities.
Why focus on the current death row rather than the people who have actually been executed?  Half of those executed have been white.  That is 11% higher than the white percentage of murderers in the 1976-2004 time frame,* 39%.  With small sample sizes, which a small state such as Delaware naturally has, it is common for percentages to jump around sharply.  Attributing such variations to one particular cause, such as racial discrimination, is fundamentally flawed as a matter of basic social science.

• Delaware's death row has a far greater racial disparity when compared to the rest of the country. Nationally, 43% of death row inmates are white, 42% are black, and 13% are Hispanic (55% minority).
The demographic composition of the murderer population is not uniform across states, so there is no reason to believe that the racial composition of any state's death row should be the same as the country's as a whole.  Nor has the case for a "disparity" been made, if that word is intended to indicate a difference in racial makeup of those who receive the death sentence as compared with those who deserve it.  No numbers on those deserving it have been provided.  Also, as noted in the previous point, the small sample size makes percentages unreliable as indicators.

• A white person has not been sentenced to death in Delaware since 2003.
Why pick "since 2003" as the cutoff point?  Because if you include 2003 and earlier years the numbers don't make their point.  Again, they are playing number games with small samples.

• The majority of murder victims in Delaware are black, yet 70% of the death sentences imposed here involved cases when the murder victim was white.
The death penalty is not for all murders.  It is for a particular subset of the worst murders, and the pattern of homicide is not uniform across racial groups.  Regrettably, there has been a horrific amount of violence in some predominantly black areas, often associated with gangs and drug trafficking.  Killings between rival gangs are far less likely to result in death sentences than predatory killings of innocent people, and appropriately so.  Jumping straight from a racial statistic to an implication that racial prejudice is the reason for it is fundamentally wrong.

• Compared to all other states with the death penalty, the Delaware statute governing the death penalty is the broadest. Virtually any murder could be tried as a capital murder here.
The claim of broadest of any state is doubtful.  Only first-degree murders can be considered for the death penalty in Delaware, and some states do not divide murder into degrees.  Therefore, some felony murders that would be eligible to be considered for the death penalty in some other states would not be in Delaware.

In any event, the theoretical breadth of the law is immaterial.  The small number of actual capital cases shows that the law is being applied sparingly.

• Convicted accomplices to a murder can be sentenced to death in Delaware even when they have not actually killed anyone.
Of course.  The leader of a conspiracy who gets others to do the dirty work is just as culpable as the henchman who does it.  A "triggermen only" rule would let off some of the most thoroughly evil killers.  Minor accomplices who neither kill nor intend to kill are protected by a federal constitutional rule, Enmund v. Florida, so it really does not matter whether that exemption is written into the state's statute or not.

• In Delaware, Florida and Alabama, the jury makes a non-unanimous recommendation to a judge, who makes the final decision about life or death.
Rightly so.  In states where a hung jury results in a life sentence, a killer who thoroughly deserves the death sentence can get off if one hard-core death penalty opponent gets on the jury and simply refuses to even consider the penalty.  A single-juror veto system introduces an element of arbitrariness into a state's death penalty system.  Delaware is wise not to have it.

• Delaware is one of only three states where a judge can overrule a jury's decision not to impose a death sentence.
This is an intentionally misleading half-truth of the kind the anti-death-penalty movement uses all the time.  The whole truth is that the Delaware Supreme Court has established such a high threshold for an override as to make it essentially impossible.  As Justice Sotomayor of the U.S. Supreme Court noted in 2013, "Only one defendant in Delaware has ever been condemned to death by a judicial life-to-death override, and the Delaware Supreme Court overturned his sentence."

That's it.  These are the bullet points the repeal proponent think are their best arguments, and there is a single decent one in the bunch.  Note what is missing.  There is no claim that an innocent person has ever been anywhere close to execution in Delaware in the modern era.  There isn't even a claim that the people who have been sentenced to death are not guilty of terrible crimes deserving of the penalty.

* 1976-2004 is the time frame of the most readily available statistics over a long period, ICSPR 20100.  Aggregating the numbers for a different time period would take more time.  The percentages do not generally change that much from year to year.

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It's astonishing that race huckstering has reached this level. Half this stuff is about race, and not one word about behavior.

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