Delaware lawmakers debate competing home invasion bills

Members of the Delaware General Assembly are considering two bills that address the growing crime of home invasions, but take different approaches.

Kent and Sussex Counties have experienced increasing incidents of crimes where the perpetrator targets a home where residents are present. Often the victims are forced to go from room to room to locate valuables and cash. Sometimes the attacks are violent, or even deadly.

“Home invasion is a heinous crime,” said State Senator David Lawson (R-Dover West), the sponsor of a bill to codify home invasion as a Class A felony and to establish a 15-year prison term.

State Representative Debra Heffernan (D-North Wilmington) said her measure would set a minimum sentence of six years, or seven years if the victim is a senior citizen. Home invasion would be classified as a Class B Felony. Heffernan added that her version was a comprehensive bill that allowed for additional related sentenced to be added to a home invasion crime.

House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) said there were attempts to reach a compromise between the two versions, but he believes the House version has the much better chance of passing.

Members of the public who were invited to testify were clearly behind the version that contains longer prison sentences.

“Let’s think about the victims,” said Louann Barrett of Dover.

Others talked about how incidents years or even decades ago have a lasting impact all of their lives.

Lawson, meanwhile, said he was aware of home invasion victims who always carried a gun while answering the doorbell.

“Home invasion lasts a lifetime,” Lawson said.

Committee chairperson, Senate Majority Leader Patty Blevins (D-Elsmere), said both bills will likely be heard by the full State Senate in separate hearings at times yet to be determined.

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The state House of Representatives Thursday is scheduled to debate legislation that would clarify the rights, responsibilities and limitations of Delaware’s elected sheriffs and their deputies.

The House Administration committee Wednesday released the bill sponsored by Schwartzkopf, who said the measure addressed concerns raised by members of Sussex County Council and the conduct of Sheriff Jeff Christopher.

“We need clarity,” Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson told the panel. He added that taxpayers and the county were being put at great risk over the sheriff’s insistence that he and his officers do have the right to arrest and detain suspects.

Typically, the county sheriffs in Delaware serve papers and oversee sheriff sales.

Georgetown Police Chief William Topping also said law enforcement agencies were concerned about the sheriff’s stance, as well as the safety of deputies, police officers, and county residents.

Debate and testimony centered around Constitutional questions, while Judy Curry asked “why can’t there be a fraternal relationship between the sheriff and Delaware State Police?”

The Administration Committee tabled a resolution sponsored by Representative Daniel Short (R-Seaford) that asked for the opinion of the Delaware Supreme Court.

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