Delaware Senate votes down constitutional amendment

 (<a href=Judge using gavel via ShutterStock) " title="judge16x9" width="640" height="360"/>

(Judge using gavel via ShutterStock)

A bill that would allow judges the right to deny bail to individuals who commit violent crimes was defeated in the Senate Tuesday.

The amendment, introduced by Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington, was defeated with an 11 to 7 vote. The Senator declined to comment after the vote.

During the hearing Marshall said there are individuals who commit crimes, have a long rap sheet and are let out on bail to then repeat the same crimes.

“The bill would only allow the judge the discretion to say you cannot leave,” he said. “When they repeat crimes like that we have the responsibility to address it.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The amendment proposed that offenders charged with serious violent felonies, would have been denied bail if a judge decided releasing them would pose a threat to the community. Someone denied bail still would have to stand trial within 120 days of the denial or they would receive a bail hearing.

Denial of bail is currently afforded to Delaware judges only in murder cases where an offender could face the death penalty.

Marshall worked closely with former attorney general Beau Biden to steer the measure through the general assembly before his second term as attorney general came to an end. Biden died in May after a battle with brain cancer.

Under the constitution, an amendment must be enacted by two consecutive general assemblies before it is codified. The bill first passed in the 147th General Assembly June 30 of last year. Amendments are enacted without the governor’s signature.

Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington North, said he was greatly troubled by the legislation because he believes it would cause over-incarceration.

“We’ve seen examples of mistakes being made in the early stages of arrest,” he said. “We incarcerate a larger percent of our population in the state of Delaware than any country in the world.”

Several senators who had previously favored the bill said they could no longer support it. Many of them said they were opposed to the bill because they believe it violates a person’s constitutional right to be innocent until proven guilty.

Brendon O’Neil, chief public defender for the State of Delaware, testified in the senate and said he’s opposed to the bill for the same reason.

“This constitution has been in place since 1897, and has served us well,” he said. “We don’t need to amend our constitution to (do our job).”

O’Neil said Delaware already has a procedure in place that gives felons a risk assessment to help the judge decide what kind of bail is appropriate.

 “We have a system that is working….That system has been designed to protect that person’s right he is assumed innocent of those charges,” O’Neil said. “The way it’s phrased sounds like he’s already guilty.”


Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal