House bill

House Bill would increase minimum sentence for gun crime – Town Square Delaware LIVE

A GOP-backed bill would increase the penalty for those convicted of possessing a firearm while committing a crime. (Pixabay)

A bill to be considered by the Delaware House of Representatives would increase the minimum sentence for those who possess a firearm while committing a crime.

The crime was created by the 137th General Assembly in 1994 with the required minimum sentence set at three years, or five years for defendants with two prior felony convictions. It has not been changed since.

In 2019, the 150th General Assembly removed the requirement that sentences be served consecutively and allowed suspended or shortened portions of sentences for good behavior.

House Bill 13, sponsored by Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, would increase the minimum sentence to five years, or ten years for defendants with at least two prior felony convictions. It would also require defendants to be sentenced consecutively and prohibit the suspension of sentences.

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Representative Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden

Yearick said the bill would improve public safety by appropriately punishing the criminal use of firearms. He said the Delaware Legislature and Justice Department have shown a “leniency bias” that is out of proportion to the seriousness of the offense.

“Regardless of community — rich or poor, black or white, male or female — individuals want the state to hold people accountable for the crimes they commit with guns,” Yearick said during the hearing. of the bill’s committee, “especially when it’s the same person with multiple beliefs.

Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, told a House Judiciary Committee meeting that it may not be true that gun crimes go unprosecuted in Delaware.

“Rightly or wrongly, there’s this perception that I’ve read on social media or in the community, which mirrors this type of statement Rep. Yearick made here today, that these charges are not not prosecuted,” Lynn said.

Lynn said he thought Yearick’s bill was well-intentioned, but there was “a battle between public perception and what the actual data reflects.”

The committee agreed to table the bill and consider it again at a May 17 meeting, after Yearick had time to consult with the Justice Department.

AJ Roop, a state attorney with the Delaware Department of Justice, said during the bill’s second hearing that the attorney general’s office does not support HB 13.

“The AG since 2019 has been against increasing minimum sentences in most cases and the position remains the same,” Roop said.

Mandatory minimum sentences are laws that specify the shortest jail term an accused can receive for committing a particular type of crime.

Guidelines are set at the federal level by Congress and at the state level by the General Assembly. Judges are required to impose these penalties when an accused is found guilty of the crime in question, regardless of the circumstances of the accused or the details of the allegation.

Roop explained that mandatory minimum sentences take away leverage from the Justice Department when it tries to get guilty pleas. By increasing mandatory minimum sentences, it becomes more likely that a defendant will choose to go to trial, he said, costing the state far more and reducing the likelihood of a conviction.

“Every time we do a trial, we bring the victims of this crime… we also have people who have to be off work who have to come and pick it up, we have to bring police officers to the streets to sit down and waiting to be summoned for trials,” Roop told the committee. “Trials are very disruptive.

Roop said if a defendant is willing to accept responsibility for a crime and take a significant prison sentence, that’s often a better outcome than risking a trial. Mandatory minimum sentences give prosecutors less work to do when trying to secure those guilty pleas, he said.

“One of the most important tenets of the American criminal justice system is the importance of individualized sentencing,” said Kevin O’Connell, chief advocate for the Office of Defense Services. “Already, sentences of up to 25 years are available for people who commit firearms offences.”

O’Connell said the public and lawmakers must be confident that judges, who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, will impose the right sentence and consider all aspects of the alleged crime, including criminal history. of the accused.

Yearick said the bill is key to keeping violent offenders off the streets and ensuring sentences are commensurate with the seriousness of the crime.

The bill has been released by committee and is awaiting consideration in the House. If passed, it will pass the Senate.