Vote Tracker

Use of Force Bills Pass House

The Delaware House took another critical step Tuesday toward ensuring law enforcement officers are held accountable when they violate the public trust.

Senate Bill 147 would create the first objective use-of-force standard for police officers in Delaware by stipulating that the use of both lethal and non-lethal force is legally justifiable only if that belief is determined to be reasonable. The House passed this bill 25-16. Sean Lynn voted no, probably because his amendment was defeated. Which is a horrible shame, because now I have to lump him in with Republicans (all but Daniel Short and Stephen Smyk) and some other fellow Democrats (Bush and Bennett) who want to live in a police state with no accountability and no standards at all for law enforcement. That is what a no vote on this bill means. Protest purity votes are stupid for this very reason.

Senate Bill 148 would expand the power of the Delaware Department of Justice’s Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust to review police use-of-force incidents that result in serious physical injury in addition to the office’s existing mandate to review all deadly-force incidents. It passed 26-15, with all Republicans voting against it because they approve of the police using unjustified force whenever they want to, and do not want their conduct subject to review.

Senate Bill 147 Sponsors Yes VotesNo Votes
PinkneyThe Senate Passed 14-7. Brown Ennis Gay Hansen Lockman Mantzavinos Paradee Pinkney Poore S.McBride Sokola Sturgeon Townsend WalshBonini Hocker Lawson Lopez Pettyjohn Richardson Wilson
Dorsey Walker, BaumbachThe House Passed 25-16. Baumbach Bentz Bolden Brady Carson Chukwuocha Cooke Dorsey-Walker Griffith Heffernan K.Johnson K.Williams Kowalko Lambert Longhurst Matthews Minor-Brown Mitchell Morrison Osienski S.Moore Schwartzkopf Wilson-Anton  D.Short Smyk Bennett Bush Lynn Briggs King Collins Dukes Gray Hensley M.Smith Morris Postles Ramone Shupe Spiegelman Vanderwende Yearick
Current Status: Sent to Governor

SB 147 would insert the word “reasonably” throughout Delaware’s use-of-force law to require the same objective standard currently used by 43 other states. Delaware is currently one of only three states that permits police officers to use deadly force whenever they believe it to be justified, regardless of whether such a belief is reasonable – a vague and subjective standard that is both difficult to understand and impractical to enforce.  

“When drafting the use-of-force legislation, it was important for law enforcement and our communities to work together to bring about systemic changes,” said Rep. Dorsey Walker.  “Modern technology has captured deadly use-of-force incidents, particularly involving Black men who have died at the hands of the police. This legislation will ensure that Delaware officers are not using lethal force unless it is absolutely necessary to protect the safety of others.”

SB 147 would make clear that deadly force includes the use of a chokehold, a practice all police in Delaware were expressly forbidden from using in 2020. This includes knowingly putting pressure on the throat, windpipe or carotid artery, and hindering or preventing the ability to breathe or interfering with the flow of blood from the heart to the brain.  

Under the current standard, all 50 instances in which police used deadly force from 2005 to 2019 were found to be justified under Delaware law.

“No one should be above the law, especially not the men and women we trust to keep us safe,” said Sen. Marie Pinkney, the Senate prime sponsor of SB 147.

“By passing this legislation, the Delaware General Assembly is standing with communities across our state — particularly communities of color — who overwhelmingly agree that police officers should be held accountable in a court of law when they commit unjustifiable acts of violence,” she said. “Moving our state away from a vague and subjective standard that has only worked to shield bad apples will go a long way in helping to restore faith in our police agencies, and I thank my colleagues for sending this legislation to Gov. Carney for his signature.”

Attorney General Kathy Jennings: “Today Delaware is ready to fix one of America’s weakest use-of-force laws, period. This issue has come up again and again throughout our state’s debate on police reform. The need for reform is overwhelming: not only the Department of Justice, but police reform advocates and the police themselves all recognize the need to better align our law with the rest of the country. And now a bipartisan fix is headed to the Governor’s desk.

If anything should be objective and reasonable, it should be the line that allows one person to take another’s life. The words “I thought” should not be an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card for any defendant. Thanks to hard work by our partners in the legislature, and the voices of countless Delawareans, it won’t be anymore.”

Senate Bill 148 SponsorsYes VotesNo Votes
Hansen, Brown, Ennis, Paradee, Pinkney, Poore, Sokola, Townsend, WalshThe Senate Passed 14-7. Brown Ennis Gay Hansen Lockman Mantzavinos Paradee Pinkney Poore S.McBride Sokola Sturgeon Townsend WalshBonini Hocker Lawson Lopez Pettyjohn Richardson Wilson
Griffith, Baumbach, Bentz, Brady, Chukwuocha, Lynn, Morrison, Osienski, K.Williams, Wilson-AntonThe House Passed 26-15. Baumbach Bennett Bentz Bolden Brady Bush Carson Chukwuocha Cooke Dorsey-Walker Griffith Heffernan K.Johnson K.Williams Kowalko Lambert Longhurst Lynn Matthews Minor-Brown Mitchell Morrison Osienski S.Moore Schwartzkopf Wilson-Anton  Briggs King Collins D.Short Dukes Gray Hensley M.Smith Morris Postles Ramone Shupe Smyk Spiegelman Vanderwende Yearick
Current Status: Sent to Governor

SB 148 would help Delaware better track whether force is applied differently when it comes to race and requires the division to report the race of individuals involved in use-of-force cases and specify whether race played a factor in how force was applied.

“Situations do arise when a police officer needs to use force when interacting with a person. However, it is critical that we help restore public trust by ensuring that there is transparency and improve accountability in situations where an officer uses force,” said Rep. Dorsey Walker. “A special thank you to law enforcement for working with us to acknowledge the issues and having a willingness to work collectively to bring about real reform.” 

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

2 comments on “Use of Force Bills Pass House

  1. The Use of Force by Delaware Law Enforcement was the subject of a Task Force created by the GA in 2020 – The Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force of “LEATF”.

    You can find information regarding same and the recommendations from LEATF here:

    The specific Use of Force Committee records can be found here:

    Here is the final report of the Use of Force Committee:

    What is conspicuously absent from ANY of the Task Force recommendations, which was included in SB147, was a change in the use of force standard for Delawareans who are not Law Enforcement Officers.

    Obviously, the point of the Task Force was to address use of force by LAW ENFORCEMENT, not the average citizen.

    I voted against SB147 because its a bad bill, and makes significant inroads into the Justification defense (which has been in place since 1973 and which has generated significant caselaw for defendants who must avail themselves of this defense. See State of Delaware v Stephenson).

    While SB147 is cloaked in the guise of Law Enforcement Accountability, which is something sorely needed, and which I would have voted for, and did, in the LEATF Task Force, I cannot vote for something that deprives victims of domestic violence, those with disabilities, those with PTSD and trauma, those with cognitive impairments, etc,, from availing themselves of a 50 year old affirmative defense to criminal liability.

    I was not alone in this concern, as the best criminal defense attorneys in the State (Tom Foley, Natalie Woloshin and Patrick Collins), as well as the Office of Defense Services (Kevin O’Connell) espoused the same belief(s).

    This bill is masked as a progressive, criminal justice reform bill, but is actually regressive, and deprives Delaware’s most vulnerable communities from advancing long standing defenses to criminal liability.

    Had the bill stuck to its intended purposes, and mirrored that of the bill introduced by myself and Brendan O’Neill (and Professor Lee) in LEATF , then we would have all been better served.

    There is much to this issue that I think you are significantly missing, and I hope you do the deep dive necessary to examine what really happened here and what this bill actually does.

    • cassandram

      Thanks for this clarification. I didn’t know that this law was not laser focused on police use of force. You’ve raised valid points of concern here and wonder why those concerns weren’t considered by others voting for this.

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