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Delaware Supreme Court Finds State's Death Penalty Law Is Unconstitutional

The Delaware Supreme Court has decided that the state's death penalty law violates the Sixth Amendment.

The court was responding to a U.S. Supreme Court decision from a case in January — Hurst v. Florida — that found that Florida's death penalty law violated the Constitution because it gave judges — not juries — ultimate power to impose the death penalty.

The Delaware court wrotethat because the decision involved a complex body of case law, four justices took different paths toward the same decision. But the bottom line, they wrote, is that the "diversity of views is outweighed by the majority's collective view that Delaware's current death penalty statute violates the Sixth Amendment role of the jury as set forth in Hurst."

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Delaware, Florida and Alabama are the only states that give judges the final power to sentence a convict to death.

All pending capital murder trials and the executions of about a dozen prisoners in Delaware were put on hold pending the outcome of the case. It's unclear whether this ruling will apply retroactively and the state could appeal this decision in federal court.

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Corrected: August 1, 2016 at 10:00 PM MDT
An earlier version of this post said the Delaware Supreme Court had decided this case unanimously. It was, in fact, a complex decision in which Justice James T. Vaughn dissented. The other four justices agreed that the state's death penalty law violates the Sixth Amendment.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.