Delaware Gov. Jack Markell has signed into law Senate Bill 9, a new sentencing scheme that replaces mandatory life without parole sentences for children convicted of first degree murder with a range of 25 years-to-life with the possibility of review later in life.
The law is the state’s effort to comply with last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama, which found that mandatory life without the possibility of parole sentences are unconstitutional when imposed for crimes committed by a person who was younger than 18. Miller requires individualized sentencing of children facing life in prison that includes consideration of the child’s age, nature of the crime, family background, history of abuse and other factors.
Under Delaware’s new law, anyone who received a mandatory life without parole sentence for a crime committed before his or her 18th birthday is now entitled to a new sentencing hearing pursuant to Miller using the new sentencing range of 25 years-to-life. In addition, the bill provides for sentence review for all children who are sentenced to more than 20 years in adult prison. Reviews will occur after 30 years for first degree murder convictions and after 20 years for all other cases and are intended to determine whether an individual has been rehabilitated and should be eligible for release.
We applaud Delaware policymakers for acknowledging the fundamental differences between children and adults, and taking steps to reform its harsh sentencing scheme accordingly. Senate Bill 9 is effective immediately.