A law school course called Prisoners’ Rights, four years teaching in a Bronx housing project and a state Delaware Superior Court conflict contract helped Rep. Sean Lynn, 41, decide he was opposed to the death penalty, which he has fought in the Legislature, through Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Dover, and in speeches to churches and civic groups.
The state Supreme Court in 2016 ruled that Delaware’s death penalty was unconstitutional, but the slayings of correctional officer Steven Floyd Sr. and trooper Stephen Ballard led to calls for its return.
“Delaware has gone through this exercise multiple times,” says Lynn, a Democrat who represents the Dover area. “If there’s a heinous crime, there’s a rush to reinstate the death penalty when it would not have had an effect. Studies show repeatedly that the vast majority of criminologists say there is no deterrent effect, bu all the talk has a sex appeal for politicians who want to be perceived as being tough on crime.”
In fact, “law enforcement is safer” in states without the death penalty, he says.
Lynn also is deeply troubled by racial disparities in Delaware’s handling of the death penalty, and he cites conclusions reached in a 2012 Cornell Law School study in Iowa Law Review. A black defendant charged with killing a white victim is three to six times more likely to get the death penalty, over any other combination of races, the study calculated. “From almost any perspective, it is hard to imagine what would cause such stark disparities,” it concluded. “Even when compared to Southern states, the Delaware death sentencing rate for black defendants with white victims is extremely high. … The racial disparities in the Delaware death sentencing rates are remarkable.”
A 2015 bill that Lynn co-sponsored failed to replace the death penalty with life without parole. In 2017, Rep. Stephen Smyk proposed a bill to revise the death penalty statute to make it constitutional. “Smyk’s bill doesn’t even touch—it completely ignores—all those racial disparities,” Lynn says. “That has to be part of the calculus.” Smyk did not respond to several requests to be profiled alongside Lynn.
Lynn, a Dover native and former Dover city councilman, was elected to the state House in 2014. He graduated from Marymount Manhattan College and Pace Law School. His law practice specializes in family and criminal law. He also manages the Patrick H. Lynn Scholarship Fund, which helps college-bound local students and serves as pro bono counsel through the Office of the Child Advocate.