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Delaware Senate Democrats

Delaware Senate passes two criminal justice reform bills

June 18, 2019

Delaware State Senate Majority Caucus
Contact: Scott Goss (302) 744-4180, or
Dylan McDowell (302) 744-4282

DOVER – Two more criminal justice reform bills cleared the Delaware Senate on Tuesday, each one passing by a unanimous vote.

“I am proud of the work we are doing to even the scales of justice and provide second chances to people who have paid their debt to society,” said Senate President Pro Tem David McBride, D-Hawk’s Nest. “The bills we passed today will open up work opportunities for those seeking to turn their lives around while reducing the number of teenagers caught up in the criminal justice system. That’s a pretty good day’s work, if you ask me.”

Senate Bill 41 would reduce the number of teens tried as adults and is part of the 19-bill criminal justice reform package unveiled in March. As of today, five of those bills have cleared the Senate.

Senate Bill 118 builds on that reform effort by removing barriers to employment for people with prior convictions who are looking to turn their lives around through employment in the field of real estate.

“My work in the Senate is focused squarely on expanding economic opportunities for working families and providing people who have made poor decisions with a second chance to turn their lives around,” said Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington, the prime sponsor of Senate Bills 41 and 118. “Both of these bills continue that effort by creating a fairer criminal justice system and helping people find the kind of gainful employment that can lift them out of poverty and avoid becoming repeat offenders.”

Senate Bill 41 would reverse the current standard that determines when someone is tried as an adult instead of as a juvenile.

Based on a 1992 ruling by the Delaware Supreme Court, authorities presently use the date of arrest when deciding whether to try a case in the adult or juvenile justice system, rather than the suspect’s age at the time of the offense.

That ruling was issued during an appeal of a case involving a young, black male from Wilmington named Bernard Howard, who was accused of selling cocaine to undercover officers when he was 17. He later was tried as an adult because his arrest occurred two weeks after his 18th birthday.

Howard, who now uses the surname Pepukayi, went on to become deputy legal counsel to former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, county attorney under former New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon and more recently became a Republican candidate for Delaware Attorney General.

Brown’s legislation would stipulate that Family Court would have exclusive jurisdiction over any criminal cases involving a suspect who was younger than 18 when the offense occurred but between the ages of 18 and 21 when they were arrested.

“It is wonderful to see this legislation,” Pepukayi said. “This will help prevent the pain, stigma and limitation of opportunities created by the strategic decision of when to arrest a child. I applaud all who were involved to make this happen.”

Although Senate Bill 118 was not part of the original 19-bill criminal justice reform package, the bill mirrors similar legislation passed by the Senate earlier this session.

State law currently bars real estate brokers from being granted a license in Delaware if they have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor related to their profession. The Delaware Real Estate Commission, however, can grant a waiver if the applicant’s felony conviction occurred more than five years ago or they are no longer incarcerated, on work release or probation for a misdemeanor.

The legislation, also sponsored by Sen. Brown, would reduce that felony waiver requirement to three years in instances where the underlying crime was committed against a person and two years in all other instances. For misdemeanor offenses, the legislation would remove the waiver requirement entirely for applicants on probation at Level II supervision or lower.

The bill also would cap the period in which the commission can consider someone’s criminal history at 10 years so long as the applicant has no other criminal convictions during that time.

The Senate unanimously passed similar reforms for the licensing of electricians on June 11 via a bill sponsored by Sen. Jack Walsh, D-Stanton. Legislation seeking comparable reforms for the licensing of massage therapists was introduced in May while a similar bill for plumbers and people working in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration passed the House on Tuesday.

“These are important bills that deserve support,” said Attorney General Kathy Jennings. “Together with other criminal justice reform measures, they will create opportunity, right-size penalties, and bring us closer to the type of justice system that Delawareans expect and deserve. I am grateful for the General Assembly’s partnership on our broader mission to modernize Delaware’s criminal and juvenile justice systems, and to the legislators who have worked so hard as sponsors and advocates for criminal justice reform.”