By Rep. Lyndon Yearick
COMMENTARY originally published in the Delaware State News on August 8th
Violent crime, especially murders committed with a firearm, is on the rise in Delaware. According to one published report, more people were shot during the first six months of 2021 in our state than during the same period in any of the last four years.
One explanation for this growing public safety threat is the failure of our criminal justice system to hold accountable those people perpetrating gun violence.
In fact, most gun charges are never prosecuted. In 2018, 3,746 firearm-related offenses were filed in Delaware, with 2,603 (about 69%) either being dropped or dismissed.
Other state data reveals that the majority of gun-related violence is being committed by former convicted felons against former convicted felons.
A report released last November by the Delaware Criminal Justice Council’s Statistical Analysis Center documents that 173 shootings took place in the state in 2019. Of the 101 unique suspects that could be connected to these shootings, 62.8% had at least one felony weapons-related arrest and 84% had previously been arrested for a violent felony. Fewer than 7% of the suspects had no arrest history in Delaware.
The victims in these incidents had much the same profile. Of the 209 unique victims, nearly 88% had been previously arrested in Delaware, 48.1% had a felony weapons arrest, and 71.6% had been arrested for a violent felony.
As these statistics indicate, people with a proven propensity for violence continue to engage in such actions when given an opportunity.
Reducing such opportunities was my motivation for sponsoring House Bill 13 last December. It proposes increasing the minimum penalty for the crime of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
The minimum sentence for this offense is presently three years for most defendants and five years for those with two prior felony convictions. My bill seeks to raise the minimums to five years and 10 years, respectively. Additionally, it would restore a previous requirement that those found guilty serve this sentence consecutively and prohibit judges from suspending it.
This measure has been blocked in the House Judiciary Committee since its introduction.
More successful is a new bipartisan law I supported to ensure that people charged with violent felonies be mandated to post cash bail.
People arrested for most crimes can typically secure their release after posting bail. People unable to pay the full bail can contract with a bail bond company that will provide the funding in exchange for a 10% to 15% fee, as well as the pledge of collateral that will be used recoup the full bail amount should it be forfeited.
While I support the right of people awaiting trial to be released, allowing potentially violent people to return to their communities by paying as little as 10% of their full bail amount is dysfunctional and disruptive. My colleague, Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha, D-Wilmington, appropriately framed the issue during House debate of the legislation: “My city has been constantly, for the past decade, ranked in the highest level per capita for murders and shootings. … We say there is a divide between our officers and the community. The divide begins when individuals from our community see individuals with firearms being arrested. Those same individuals come right back on the street. That creates a sense of ‘Why should I say anything?’ It’s fear that this individual
is going to get right back out. So now, we do not have individuals to step forward to be witnesses. We don’t have individuals to step forward to give statements to provide information to solve crimes. …This bill will address that.”
Signed into law June 30, the measure specifies dozens of felony offenses for which the courts are asked to set cash bail meeting or exceeding the published guidelines. The new statute singles out those charged with a violent felony involving a firearm or with committing a violent felony while on probation or pretrial release.
I am a major proponent of eliminating stigmas and removing barriers that hamper former convicted felons trying to rejoin society. At the same time, I realize there are many felons whose only interest is resuming the lives that led to their incarceration. I am committed to taking actions to help the former and protect our citizens from the latter.
Rep. Lyndon Yearick is a Republican serving the 34th District, which covers the Camden, Wyoming, Magnolia and south Dover areas.