Biden, Lawmakers Unveil Criminal Justice Proposals to Protect Public Safety By Focusing on Violent Repeat Offenders
WILMINGTON – Dangerous, violent criminals would face tougher bail conditions - and in some cases be denied bail by a judge - under legislation proposed Thursday by Attorney General Beau Biden, Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, Senator Robert Marshall, Rep. Helene Keeley and Rep. Larry Mitchell.
At a press conference attended by local officials, law enforcement officers and community advocates, the Attorney General and legislators announced bills that would:
Require that defendants arrested on violent felony charges while already out on bail for a previous offense have their bail for the first offense revoked if a Superior Court judge decides there is sufficient evidence that the person committed the second set of crimes. The repeat offender would forfeit the bail if it was cash and a hearing would be held to set a new bail amount, which must be at least twice as much as the initial amount.
Amend Delaware’s constitution to allow for judges to have the discretion to order dangerous defendants held without bail if holding them in pre-trial detention is the only way to “reasonably assure the safety” of the public. The constitutional amendment would make Delaware law similar to the federal system, where judges can hold hearings to determine whether a defendant is too dangerous to release.
“Violent crime is down statewide, but too often we are seeing dangerous criminals commit violent crimes while out on bail. These proposals put sharper teeth in the bail system and protect the public from these repeat offenders,” Biden said.
Rep. Keeley, D-Wilmington South, and Sen. Henry, D-Wilmington East, will be the prime sponsors of the statutory changes. Wilmington residents have been dealing for years with criminals repeatedly getting arrested and making bail, said Rep. Keeley, D-Wilmington South. Keeping repeat offenders off the streets by toughening the bail statute will help cut down on some of the more serious crime, she said.
“We have people committing serious crimes and within 24 hours they’re back on the streets again wreaking havoc and violating the bail conditions set for them. This is a segment of our population that has an attitude that the law doesn’t apply to them or they just don’t care,” Rep. Keeley said. “When do we say enough is enough? We understand that people make mistakes and have a constitutional right to bail. But when someone is repeatedly cycling through the justice system and not taking advantage of opportunities to rehabilitate themselves, then we need to look at closing this revolving door. Our residents look to our justice system to not only be fair to the accused, but to protect the innocent from those who might hurt them.”
In addition to the provisions requiring the revocation and forfeiture of bail the bill would also:
Make clear the judge must, as a condition of bail, require the defendant to appear at court when summoned. Having this requirement as a clear condition of bail will allow the bail to be forfeited if the defendant does not appear for trial or other proceedings.
Deposit forfeited bail into a “Fugitive Task Force Fund” that will be used to track down offenders who have been released on bail but fail to show up for their trials.
Require individuals charged with violent felonies, in order to be released on bail, provide to the state – under penalty of perjury – information on the source of their bail, including the names and addresses of anyone who put up money toward their bail and a sworn statement that the money has not been unlawfully obtained.
“These measures, we hope, will mean violent and potentially dangerous criminals are not on the streets committing new crimes while they’re awaiting trial,” said Senate Henry, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It not only deals with accused offenders who thumb their nose at the system by abusing their right to bail and committing new crimes while they’re on bail awaiting trial, but it provides us with a way to track where these criminals are getting their bail money and gives us money to help hunt down offenders who have jumped bail and are trying to elude justice.”
The proposed constitutional amendment will be sponsored Sen. Marshall, chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, and Rep. Mitchell, D-Elsmere.
“This is an important step we need to take to keep dangerous individuals off our streets and out of our communities,” Sen. Marshall said. “This proposal gives a judge the opportunity to decide, under terms the legislature will spell out, whether an individual is too dangerous to be released.”
Rep. Larry Mitchell said that Delaware courts are well-suited to handle the proposed change.
“While the right to bail is one of the foundations of our judicial system, there are situations other than capital cases where the crimes are so serious or the risk to the victim is so high that bail should not be an option,” said Mitchell, D-Elsmere. “Delaware has the best judges in the country, and I think we need to trust their wisdom and judgment when they look at the circumstances surrounding these cases.”
Specifically, the constitutional amendment would:
Gives Delaware judges the ability to determine that in certain circumstances a defendant is too dangerous to be released on bail pending trial. Under the proposal, the prosecution could ask a judge to hold a hearing to determine whether holding the defendant without bail is the only way to “reasonably assure the safety” of the public. At that hearing, a defense attorney will of course have the opportunity to argue against the prosecution’s motion before the judge rules.
Align Delaware’s law and constitution with the U.S. Constitution and federal law, if a defendant is deemed too dangerous to release pending trial, a judge can deny bail. When the state constitution was originally drafted, there were multiple offenses that qualified as capital offenses and therefore more defendants were eligible to be held without bail. Currently, only first-degree murder (with the necessary aggravating circumstances) is a capital crime.
Once the amendment is approved by two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly, legislation would then need to be passed to set the criteria judges will use to determine whether a defendant should be held without bail, so this is just the first step in a two-part process.
Both pieces of legislation are being circulated among General Assembly members for additional sponsors. The bills will be formally introduced next month.