DOVER, Del. (AP) — Delaware’s state Senate approved a bill Thursday requiring more people charged with crimes to pay cash bail in order to be released from custody pending trial.
The legislation, which cleared the Senate on a 19-2 vote and now goes to the House, establishes secured cash bail as the baseline to be used by judges in determining pretrial release conditions for people charged with 38 specific offenses. Those offenses include the most serious violent felonies, as well as certain gun crimes, sex crimes involving children and certain domestic violence offenses.
The bill also requires anyone charged with one of the listed offenses to surrender his or her firearms while awaiting trial or resolution of the case.
The Senate approved the legislation even as Democratic lawmakers seek to end Delaware’s reliance on cash bail through passage of a constitutional amendment that would allow bail to be withheld entirely for cases involving the same offenses listed in the legislation approved Thursday. Currently, the Delaware constitution allows bail to be withheld only for capital crimes, which are crimes punishable by death. Delaware’s death penalty was abolished several years ago, however.
“The people of Delaware should not be asked to sit idly by for the three years it will take to amend our constitution,” said Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, a cosponsor of the bill and author of the amendment requiring defendants to surrender their firearms while awaiting trial.
In other action Thursday, the Senate passed legislation revising the standard under which the use of force, whether lethal or nonlethal, is justified under Delaware law.
Under current law, the use of deadly force by a police officer, or anyone else, is justified if the person believes it is necessary to protect himself or others from death, serious physical injury, rape or kidnapping.
The legislation approved Thursday requires that such a belief must be “reasonable.”
According to supporters of the bill, Delaware is one of only three states in which the law allows police officers to use deadly force whenever they believe it to be justified, regardless of whether such a belief is reasonable.
“Under current Delaware law, any use of force by a police officer, no matter how egregious and unnecessary, is considered perfectly legal as long as the officer in question uses the magic words, ‘I believed,’” said chief bill sponsor Sen. Marie Pinkney, D-New Castle.
“This legislation will allow us to finally hold police officers accountable in a court of law when they commit unjustifiable acts of violence, something that is absolutely necessary if we ever hope to restore trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” Pinkney added in a statement.
Republican Sen. David Lawson of Marydel, a retired state trooper, criticized his colleagues for casting blame at police officers who must make split-second decisions when trying to enforce the law and protect the public.
“What is reasonable to one may not be reasonable to another,” Lawson said. “The people making those decisions, ‘that reasonable person,’ probably has never been in a life-or-death situation.”
“I can tell you, per capita, there’s a lot less dirty police officers then there are senators in this very chamber,” he added.
The measure cleared the Democrat-controlled Senate on a party-line vote and now goes to the House.
The Senate also voted along party lines to approve a companion bill authorizing the attorney general’s office to review police use-of-force incidents that result in serious physical injury. Under current law, the office is authorized to review only deadly force incidents. The legislation also requires that any public report on use-of-force incidents reviewed by the attorney general’s office must include the race of the police officer, the race of the person on whom force was used, and a statement on whether race was found to be a relevant or a motivating factor in the use of force.