On Tuesday afternoon, the Delaware Supreme Court released a 148-page unanimous ruling that the state’s current death penalty law is an unconstitutional violation of the Sixth Amendment.
The decision whether and how to reinstate the death penalty is now left to the state’s General Assembly.
Here are the basics of the ruling — and its implications — Americans need to know:
1. What U.S. Supreme Court precedent exists on the death penalty?
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that Florida’s death penalty law was unconstitutional because it gave judges the final say to impose a death sentence, rather than juries.
Delaware, Florida, and Alabama are the only states that give judges the final authority over whether to sentence a convict to death, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
2. What happens next for Delaware convicts on death row?
The last execution in Delaware occurred in 2012. According to Delaware Online, 14 men are currently on death row and their position was put on hold over the course of the case.
At this point, it is unclear whether this ruling will apply retroactively to the 14 men and the state has the option of appealing the decision in federal court.
3. How many states have the death penalty?
Now that Delaware’s current law is deemed unconstitutional, the death penalty is a legal punishment in 30 U.S. states.
In May 2015, Nebraska became the latest state to abolish the death penalty when the state legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts.
4. When will the U.S. Supreme Court next take up the death penalty?
In June 2016, the high court announced it has accepted two death penalty cases for the next term beginning in October.
Both of the cases are from Texas and although neither challenged the constitutionality of the punishment itself, two justices, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, recently called for a “full briefing” on “whether the death penalty violates the Constitution.”
5. What do Americans think of capital punishment?
According to an April 2015 Pew report, 56% of Americans favor the death penalty while 38% oppose. But since the mid-1990s, support for the punishment has decreased drastically:
Among Democrats, just 40% favored the death penalty last year, while 56% opposed. In 1996, Democrats actually favored capital punishment by a wide margin — 71% to 25%.
As of last year, 77% of Republicans favor the death penalty, down from 87% in 1996. The share of independents who favor the death penalty has fallen from 79% to 57% over the same period.
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