Delaware law enforcement support new bail rules for violent offenders

Reform to the state bail system moved further along as law enforcement officers from across Delaware came out to Legislative Hall in full force to support a substitute bail bill.

Nearly a dozen officers from the Wilmington Police Department were in attendance for the introduction of  House Substitute 1 for House Bill 39. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Helene Keeley and has received praise from the attorney general’s office and the governor’s office as well as law enforcement agencies across the state.

The legislation was developed after a series of meetings between legislators, the AG’s office, the Delaware Bail Association, ACLA and law enforcement in an effort to restructure the way the state handles bail for violent and repeat offenders.

Kathleen Jennings, Delaware state prosecutor, explained that serious offenders are given the option of cash bail and are usually only required to put up a small percentage of that bail to get out.  

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Under the new legislation, a person who is released on bail for a violent felony and is then re-arrested for a second distinct violent felony, will have their first bail revoked.

“The first bail will be revoked pending a superior court hearing at which the government, the state must prove, by proof positive and presumption great, the same standard for capital cases, for death penalty cases, that the new violent felony occurred,” explained Jennings. “And, if we meet that burden of proof, bail for the first offence is revoked.”

In Delaware, offenders have the constitutional right to bail so new bail must be set. The new legislation will specify that the new bail must be set at double the original bail.

Another part of the bill is that court must take into consideration “elemental, good common sense factors” when determining bail, according to Jennings.

Some of the factors include whether a firearm was used or possessed during the crime, how many felonies the offender already has and if the offence is considered witness intimidation.

It also requires the offender to show up for the bail hearing in court.

Frank Calhoun, president of the Delaware Fraternal Order of Police, represents 2,400 members of law enforcement in the state and said the legislation will be a big help for officers.

“I’m here today speaking in favor of this legislation,” said Calhoun. “When we get hired, we take an oath to protect the citizens of this entire state and I think its time we think outside the box of traditional policing. It’s time to work with our legislators and our attorney general’s office on legislation to create more pull for us to keep violent offenders in jail.”

The city of Wilmington, which has already experienced an 11% increase in shootings from last year, is one of the state’s most violent areas and Captain Matt Kurten of the Wilmington Police Department said officers see the same names of offenders popping up over and over again. He said the new legislation would cut down on crime from those offenders.

“The offenders, when they’re out on bail, if they’re going to recidivate, they’re not going to be able to stay on the streets for long once they’re placed in custody again. With a bail that’s at least doubled, we can keep them behind bars in jail where they should be,” said Kurten.

The judiciary committee approved a motion to release the legislation from committee.

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