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Superior Court Glosssary

Selected courtroom and legal terms used in Delaware

Acquit—To find a criminal defendant not guilty through a verdict or because the evidence is insufficient, or because the charges have been dropped or dismissed.

AdmissibleEvidence that is relevant to the case, and is material, will be usually be permitted to be presented to the jury in most instances. The judge may have to make some decisions regarding whether certain evidence is admissible under the Delaware Rules of Evidence, rules of court procedure, and decisions from prior cases that he or she may be bound to follow.

Adversarial SystemThis is the method American courts use to arrive a resolution in a legal case. The parties in a case tell their sides of a case to a judge and/or jury who arrive at a decision.

AffidavitA written statement or declaration of facts which has been sworn to as true in front of someone authorized to administer oaths such as a notary public or a member of the Bar of the State of Delaware.

AffirmTo uphold a decision made in another court in a case on appeal, by a hearing officer in a court that has the authority to decide the appeal.

AppealThis is a legal process used to review the final decision in a criminal case in Delaware as defined by the State Constitution, Court Rules, and the Delaware Code. The conviction and sentence of a defendant in Superior Court may be appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court. Decisions regarding motions decided after the conviction may also be appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court. An appeal in a Superior Court criminal case is filed by providing a notice of appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court within 30 days of the date of the sentence, or within 30 days from the entry on the Superior Court docket of a decision regarding a motion filed after the conviction. The Supreme Court Rules, and the Delaware Code, available in public libraries throughout the State, should be reviewed carefully before submitting an appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, to make certain that all of the filing requirements are followed. The guidance of a Delaware Attorney is invaluable. Appeals to Superior Court are covered in a separate section of this document.

AppellantThe appellant is the party who initiates the appeal of the judgment or decision of a court by filing a notice of appeal in the appropriate court.

Appellate CourtThe appellate court is the court with the authority to hear and decide an appeal. An appellate court is said to possess the "jurisdiction" to handle the appeal, though the jurisdiction, or power to hear the appeal, is granted to the court by the State Constitution and the Delaware Code. One must "perfect" an appeal in order for the appellate court to be able to review the decision of the court being appealed from. Perfection of an appeal requires that the proper steps be taken to allow the appellate court to hear the case, such as filing the notice of appeal within the proper amount of time, as set forth by Statute and/or court rule.

AppellateThis is the party against whom the appeal is taken.

ArraignmentThis is the first appearance in Superior Court of the defendant after indictment. The defendant is provided with a copy of the indictment, informed of the charges against him or her, and advised of the right to an attorney and to trial. At arraignment, the defendant also formally enters a plea before the court of guilty or not guilty. Bail is set at this time, and bail which may have been previously set is reviewed. Under Superior Court Rule 10(c), the defendant may waive the opportunity to be present for this initial appearance if represented by an attorney, and if bail has already been set on all of the charges listed in the indictment. The attorney is required to file a written plea of not guilty with the Court in a timely manner. The written pleading must state that the defendant has been made aware of the charges against him or her, that the next appearance date is know to the defendant, that a plea of not guilty is being entered, and that the person(s) responsible for bail has been informed of the filing of the written pleading.

BenchThe seat where the Judge, or hearing officer sits in the courtroom. If a defendant waives the right to a jury trial in Superior court, and proceeds with only the judge hearing the case, the proceeding is known as a bench trial.

BriefThis is a written statement prepared by a lawyer to explain the facts and applicable law of a case in court.

Burden of ProofWhen facts are in dispute in a case, one party may have the responsibility for providing evidence to persuade the judge or jury to believe their version of the facts. Usually, the party that brings the case into court has the burden of proof. The absolute truth about what happened is not what needs to be shown. In a civil case, the plaintiffs normally have to show that it is more probable than not that something happened the way they said it did. In a criminal case, the burden of proof is greater, and the prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime charged.

Case LawWhile many of the laws we follow daily have been written by the Delaware Legislature, and the United States Senate and House of Congress, or by agencies that have been granted the power to make regulations, such as the IRS, there is another body of law that the courts follow in making decisions. While the courts interpret statutory law, normally in every case, and apply those laws to the particular facts of the case they are deciding, there is a large body of previous decisions from courts which interpret many of the legal issues that may come up in a case. The law from previous judicial opinions is known as case law, and a judge, in most instances, will seriously consider decisions from previous cases when deciding a particular issue.

CapiasLatin for "that you take." A capias is a writ issued by a judge requesting that the sheriff take someone into custody, and hold the person until he or she may be brought into court before a judge of the court, so that the person can be dealt with by the court. In a criminal case in Superior Court, a capias is normally requested by the hearing office because the defendant failed to appear for court. It is also requested when a defendant is in violation of a condition of probation, and the probation officer asks the court to bring the defendant before the court, to answer for the failure to follow the condition of probation. A capias is similar to a warrant in that a law enforcement agent, upon discovering that there is an outstanding capias upon a person, is authorized to take that person into custody.

ContinuanceArescheduling of a court proceeding is known as a continuance. A continuance must be granted by a hearing officer of Superior Court.

ConvictionThe result of a trial or the entry of a plea which finds the defendant guilty of criminal charges, with the entry of a judgment or sentence.

Court DocketThe court docket in Superior Court is a document prepared by the Prothonotary's Office which lists the paperwork filed with the clerk's office in the case, and generally describes the judicial activities in a case. The court docket normally accompanies the transcript of the record of a case to the Delaware Supreme Court on appeal. It is also used by courts and agencies in other states, and by the Federal Government as evidence of the status and disposition of Delaware criminal charges.

CrimeAn action in violation of a law of the State, county, or a municipality, where the legislative body of that government has classified the action as an offense against the community. A crime in Delaware may be a violation, misdemeanor, or felony, depending upon the statute used in the filing of charges in the complaint, information, or indictment. A failure to act when required by law may also be considered a crime under Delaware Statutes. One example would be the failure of someone who has been convicted as a sex offender to register as a sex offender with the State of Delaware.

DefendantThe person accused of committing a crime in a criminal case.

DiscoveryPretrial procedures used by the defense and prosecution in a criminal case to disclose information to each other regarding the factual circumstances involving the criminal activity, and the investigation that lead to the filing of criminal charges. These procedures are governed by Court rules, and by decisions in previous criminal cases. In most instances, the documents and other materials involved in the discovery process are not filed with the Court, but are rather exchanged directly between the prosecutors and the defense attorneys. When such an exchange takes place, a notice of service of the discovery, but not the actual discovery materials, is sent to the Court.

DismissalAn order or judgment of the Court which acts as a final disposition of charges prior to trial or conviction.

Drug CourtAt least one third of the cases that have been presented in Superior Court over the last few years have been cases involving drugs. The State of Delaware, with the aid of the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Federal Government, has developed procedures to speed up the dispositions of case involving drugs, and to try to avoid repeat offenses by steering drug case defendants toward treatment programs rather than imprisonment. The Delaware Legislature has worked with the courts towards this goal, and the executive branch has provided some agencies that act toward achieving rehabilitative efforts. Participants in the Drug Court are placed on a diversion program. They are supervised by agencies such as Brandywine Counseling, Inc., or SODAT, and they come before the Court at least once a month so that a Judge has direct involvement in the effort to treat defendants as people with problems that can be overcome. The program does place a considerable amount of incentive upon the people entering it. When a defendant joins the Drug diversion program, he or she stipulates that upon failure to comply with the conditions of the program, a sentence for the original charges may be imposed. If the defendant is successful, the charges are dropped by the Attorney General's Office, and the defendant can then petition the Court to have the record of their arrest expunged.

Elements of a CrimeIf you were to take a criminal statute and break it down into each of the parts that the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, each part would be considered an element of that crime. For example, burglary might be defined by a statute as "entering a building or occupied structure, with the purpose of committing a crime, unless the premises are open at that time to the public, and the person has a privilege or license to enter. The State would have to prove: (1) that the person entered a building or occupied structure; (2) with the purpose of committing a crime; (3) the premises were not open to the public at the time; and (4) the person did not have a privilege or license to enter. The concept of breaking a crime down into elements is important for at least three reasons. The first is that it makes it easier for a decision to be made by the jury, or the judge in a non jury case, as to whether the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was committed by the person charged. Proof will be presented by the State regarding each element of the crime. The second is that a person might be found guilty of a lessor included offense. For instance, if the State can prove that the defendant entered a building when the premises were not open to the public, and the defendant did not have a privilege or license to enter the building, but cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the purpose was to commit a crime, it may be possible to convict the person of trespass. The third reason is that the State cannot use that same set of circumstances to convict the person of both burglary and trespass, since the trespass is a lessor included offense of the burglary.

EvidenceTestimony, documents, material objects, and other things presented by a party in a case, normally while questioning witnesses, which are used to prove or disprove the truth of a fact. The Delaware Rules of Evidence, Superior Court Rules, and previous case law guide the Judge in his or her decision to allow a party to introduce specific evidence in a case. Objections may be made by a party to the introduction of some evidence. The objections will often be accompanied by a reference to a specific rule of evidence or court rule, or prior legal case. The judge will decide whether or not that evidence can be presented to the jury, or considered by them when the jury makes their final decision on a case.

ExpungementWhen a person is arrested for charges in Delaware, those charges remain on the person's criminal record even if the person is found not guilty, or the charges are dropped by the Attorney General's Office, or the charges are dismissed. There is a procedure under Delaware Law a person can follow to attempt to remove those charges from their record. A person can file a Petition for Destruction of Indicia of Arrest or Expungement of Records in Superior Court. The expungement process is a civil procedure since the person filing the petition is the plaintiff, and the State of Delaware is the Defendant. A form and instruction sheet is available in the Prothonotary's Office. The Attorney General's Office does have the opportunity to respond to the Petition, and a hearing may be required under the procedure.

FelonyA crime of a more serious nature than those designated by the legislature as misdemeanors or violations. In Delaware, the statute a person is charged with violating will normally indicate whether the offense is considered a felony or misdemeanor. The information or indictment will also normally state whether the offense is a felony or misdemeanor. Under the laws of Delaware, a person convicted of a felony loses some civil rights, such as the right to vote or hold political office.

Jury ForemanThe member of the jury, chosen first, acts as the chairman and spokesperson for the jury.

ImpeachIn a criminal case, to impeach is to challenge the credibility or validity of the testimony of a witness.

JurisdictionThe power of a court to hear and decide cases. Superior Court has the authority to hear cases involving all criminal statutes in the State of Delaware with the exception of a few that the legislature decided are expressly to be heard in another court. In addition to the types of charges the Court may decide, geographical considerations also apply. An action, or failure to act, may be a crime that could be heard in Superior Court if it occurred in Delaware, or had an impact upon people in Delaware. If that action, or failure to act, occurred outside of the State, and had no impact upon the people in the State, the Court may not have the jurisdiction to hear the case. The Delaware Legislature has written legislation regarding the circumstances that need to be proven by the prosecutors for someone to held accountable for violations of criminal statutes of Delaware if those violations take place outside of the State of Delaware. Superior Court also has the jurisdiction to hear and decide appeals from some other courts as defined by the court rules, statutes, and the constitution of the State. This jurisdictional power is limited in some respects. If the appeal is not filed within the proper amount of time, or if the length of the sentence, or amount of the fine is not great enough, the Court may not have the power to hear and decide the appeal.

JudgmentThe final decision or opinion of the Court on a matter brought before it. The use of the word judgment may also refer to the entry on the records of the Court of an outstanding debt owed from one party to another.

Misdemeanor
A crime of a less serious nature than a felony, yet more serious than a violation. In Delaware, the statute a person is charged with violating will normally indicate whether the offense is considered a felony, a misdemeanor, or a violation.

MotionAn application made to the Court, usually by a party to a case, requesting that some action be taken, or that an order be issued on behalf of the applicant.

Nolle ProsequiNo prosecution. A notice of nolle prosequi may be issued by the Attorney General's Office to the Court, informing the Court that they are formally dropping a charge, or charges. The reason for the nolle prosequi is listed upon the notice. The Attorney General's Office cannot file a nolle prosequi on a charge after a conviction has been entered on that charge unless they first receive permission from the Court.

OathAn express acknowledgment made by a person that he or she is aware of being bound in conscience, and by laws against perjury, to tell the truth while testifying.

OpinionA decision of the Court in which the law which applied to the case is explained, and the reasons for the decision are expressed.

ParoleA conditional release from prison of a person who has served some of a sentence in prison. One cannot be sentenced directly to parole, and parole decisions are made by the executive branch with the opportunity for input from the sentencing judge.

PleaThe answer of the defendant to the charge or charges brought against him or her by the State is known as the plea. It is the standard practice, after the hearing officer informs the defendant of the charges brought against him or her during the arraignment, to ask the defendant for his or her answer to the charges. If the answer is "not guilty," the case will move along to the case reviews, and possibly then to trial.

Plea Agreement or plea bargainPlea bargaining is the process where the defendant and the prosecution come to an agreement as to a disposition of charges, subject to the Court's approval. A plea agreement is also the name for the paperwork that lists the details involved in the agreement. Charges are often dropped or reduced as a result of a plea bargain. There are court rules and previous case decisions which the judge follows in deciding whether to allow a defendant and the state to enter into an agreement on a plea. The judge will ask the defendant questions regarding his or her entry into the plea agreement to make certain that the defendant is knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently making an informed decision.

ProsecutorThis is the public officer who takes responsibility on behalf of the State for bringing the criminal charges into Superior Court and seeing them through to a resolution. Often, the name of a prosecutor for a case appears on the indictment or information.

SubpoenaA command issued by the Court to appear before the court on a certain date and time.

Subpoena Duces TecumA command issued by the court to appear before the court, and bring books, papers, and other things specified in the subpoena.

SummonsA notice sent to a defendant informing him or her that the listed charges have brought in Superior Court, and requesting that he or she appear at Court on the date indicated to answer the charges.

TestimonyEvidence given by a witness under oath or affirmation in court, or through an affidavit or a deposition.

TranscriptA written, printed, or typed copy of something is a transcript. A transcript of the testimony would be a typed copy of testimony in a case usually prepared by the court reporters in a case. A transcript of the record would be copies of all the paperwork filed in a case through the clerk's office.

True BillAn indictment that has been presented to the grand jury, and is found to have sufficient probable cause on the basis of evidence presented, to hold a person for trial in Superior Court, is know as a true bill.

VerdictThe decision in the case as to whether the defendant is found guilty or not guilty, as determined by the jury, or the judge in a non jury case.

VictimA person who is the object of the crime.

ViolationA crime of a less serious nature than a felony or misdemeanor. In Delaware, the statute a person is charged with normally states whether it is a violation, a misdemeanor, or a felony.