Ineffective and Error-prone

The 2016 Delaware Supreme Court decision declaring the death penalty statute unconstitutional raised the fail rate to over 73%, meaning death sentences failed to result in executions over 73% of the time. Even prior to the Supreme Court decision, the error rate was over 51%.

Cornell University Law School studied Delaware’s death penalty during its modern era from 1977 to 2012. The findings showed that Delaware’s costly death penalty process was ineffective with an overall reversal rate of 40%. Since the study was published and prior to the Delaware Supreme Court declaring the death penalty statute unconstitutional, the error rate had risen to over 51% with 31 out of 60 death sentences reduced or overturned during post-conviction proceedings. In other words, when the state of Delaware spent money to get a death sentence, the process failed to result in an execution more than half the time.

Prior to the 2016 Delaware Supreme Court decision:

60 death sentences
31 reduced or overturned due to error
16 executed (5 of these were volunteers who cut short their appeals process)
13 pending on death row

After the Delaware Supreme Court declared the state’s death penalty statute unconstitutional in August 2016, the numbers became:

60 death sentences
44 reduced or overturned
16 executed

Appendix F (p. 1964) of the Cornell University Law School study shows the types of errors that contributed to Delaware’s 40% error rate:

  • Evidentiary Error
  • Juror Qualification or Selection
  • Jury Misconduct
  • Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
  • Prosecutorial Misconduct
  • Instructional Error

> View/download the entire Cornell Study article 100112 (PDF)