The Death Penalty in Delaware: An Empirical Study

John H. Blume, Cornell Law School
Theodore Eisenberg, Cornell Law School
Sheri Johnson, Cornell Law School
Valerie P. Hans, Cornell Law School


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This article reports the findings of the first phase of a three phase empirical study of the death penalty in Delaware. In phase 1, we examined only cases in which the defendant was sentenced to death. While our findings are preliminary, there appear to be, as numerous other studies have found in other jurisdictions, race of victim effects. Seventy percent of the death sentences were imposed in white victim cases, even though the majority of the murder victims are black. Additionally, Delaware has one of the highest death sentencing rates in the country. This high rate appears to be the result of a change in the Delaware death sentencing scheme from jury to judge sentencing. When that change was implemented, the number of death sentences rose dramatically. Our preliminary findings also reveal a geographic effect. Two thirds of the death sentences were imposed in New Castle County, 29% were imposed in Kent County and only 5% of the death sentences resulted from murders which occurred in Sussex County. Finally, in analyzing the outcomes of the cases in which the defendant was sentenced to death on appeal, we found an overall error rate of 44%.