Senate Bill 9
147th General Assembly (2013 - 2014)
The General Assembly has ended, the current status is the final status.
AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 11 OF THE DELAWARE CODE RELATING TO CRIMINAL SENTENCES.
This Act modifies Delaware's juvenile sentencing laws to bring those laws into compliance with decisions the United States Supreme Court issued in 2010 and 2012. During its last term, the United States Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders. Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012). Instead, to pass constitutional muster, a State’s sentencing system may permit a life-without-parole sentence only if it also permits the sentencer to consider youth as a mitigating circumstance and to assess whether the law’s harshest term of im¬prisonment proportionately punishes an individual juvenile offender. In Delaware, there are only two statutorily-mandated alternative sentences for murder in the first degree, death and a mandatory life-without-parole term. DEL. CODE ANN. tit. 11, § 4209. Neither may now be imposed on a juvenile who commits first degree murder. This Act will bring Delaware into compliance with the Miller holding by removing juvenile offenders from the mandatory sentencing scheme for first degree murder to one which gives judges a range of options up to life imprisonment. The judge will be able to exercise his or her discretion within that range using individualized criteria suggested by the Supreme Court; such factors are already an integral part of Delaware’s sentencing procedures. See, e.g., SENTAC Benchbook, 2012 (Jan. 2012) pp. 123-26 (describing aggravating and mitigating circumstances). In a recent term, the United States Supreme Court held also that the Eighth Amendment prohibits sentencing a minor convicted of a non-homicide offense to life without the possibility of parole. Graham v. Florida, 130 S.Ct. 2011, 2034 (2010). Current Delaware law allows a sentence of life imprisonment to be imposed upon a juvenile offender for a non-homicide offense and, as parole has been abolished, such a sentence would be a natural life term with no possibility for release. This Act reorganizes and amends the provision in Delaware’s Criminal Code that allows a court to retain jurisdiction to modify a sentence and reduce the level of custody or time to be served. Under this Act a juvenile offender sentenced to a life term for any offense other than first degree murder would now be eligible for sentence modification pursuant to that provision after the offender has served 25 years of the originally imposed Level V sentence. This amendment insures that any sentence imposed under Delaware law would comply with the Court’s decision in Graham which provides: “A State need not guarantee the [juvenile] offender eventual release, but if it imposes a sentence of life it must provide him or her with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of that term.” Id. To further insure compliance with Miller v. Alabama, the Act also provides a sentencing judge discretion to designate in the original sentencing order of a juvenile convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life, that he or she will be eligible to seek sentence modification after serving 35 years. Lastly, the Act would permit the sentencing court to order that multiple terms of incarceration imposed upon a person for crimes committed before the person’s eighteenth birthday may be served concurrently to avoid de facto life sentences in such cases.
Takes effect upon being signed into law