legislative hall spring/summer

Legislative Hall in Dover 

Those charged with certain violent crimes would face a required minimum secured bond and would automatically lose possession of their firearms for the duration of their trial process, according to new legislation passed by the Delaware state Senate Thursday. 

Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 7, primarily sponsored by Sen. Spiros Mantzavinos (D-Elsmere), sets a mandatory bond for those charged with Class A felonies including gun and domestic violence offenses, rape, sexual abuse of children, and reoffending while out on bond. 

"Under this bill, the courts will begin a baseline of secure cash bail for anyone accused of these offenses--and will have to explicitly justify anything less," Mantzavinos said. 

There was some concern over a specific language in an amendment attached to the bill which would require the forfeiture of firearms while an individual faced the court process related to the above charges. Sen. Bryan Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown) said in the bill, the word "forfeit" is used, while colloquially, the term "relinquish" was used, and he was concerned the two might be separate requirements. 

"In your statement, you kept using the word relinquish, relinquish, relinquish, but in the bill, it says forfeit," he said. "Forfeit is permanent. Relinquish. I think, would be a better term, because you relinquish it until you're adjudicated--found guilty or not guilty. This says you forfeit. You lose ownership, period."

The two were interchangeable, said Sen. Stephanie Hansen (D-Middletown), and she addressed those concerns saying those cleared during the court process would once again receive access to their firearms. 

"If you are relinquishing or forfeiting something for a period of time, you're giving it up," Hansen said. "You're giving up your firearm while you're on bail and your case is being decided, whether you want to call it a forfeiture, or relinquishment. It is legally treated the same. It is a difference without distinction."

Sen. Colin Bonini (R-Dover) was concerned unscrupulous elected officials would suddenly be in a position to inhibit someone's constitutional rights by issuing fictitious charges of a serious nature to individuals in an effort to take their guns away. 

"I'm concerned that we take people's rights based on what the attorney general charges somebody with," he said. "We're going to restrict people's rights based on what administrative people in an elected office choose to charge?..I'm not sure that's the Delaware we want to live in."

Despite those concerns, the bill passed 19-2 and now heads to the Delaware house for consideration. A constitutional amendment, Senate Bill 11, seeks to withhold bond entirely for those charged with the same crimes addressed by SS1 for SB7 if there is "clear and convincing evidence that a defendant presents a danger to public safety or no other condition will assure their appearance in court." A sunset provision on SS1 for SB7 would take effect upon passage of SB11.