Criminal Jurisdiction (Jury Trial Election Available)
- Misdemeanors, including Misdemeanor Drug Offenses for persons over the age of 18
- Motor Vehicle Offenses
- Preliminary Hearings in Felony Charges
- Appeals of Criminal Matters from the Justice of the Peace Courts
- Appeals of Criminal Matters from Alderman's Courts
Civil Jurisdiction (Jury Trial Election Not Available)
- Lawsuits where the amount in controversy does not exceed $50,000.00
- Change of Name Petitions
- Habitual Offender Motor Vehicle Hearings
- Administrative Appeals from the Division of Motor Vehicles
- Appeals of Civil Lawsuits from the Justice of the Peace Courts
Overview of Criminal Jurisdiction
The Court of Common Pleas for the State of Delaware has criminal jurisdiction throughout the State over misdemeanors and motor vehicle offenses, including misdemeanor drug offenses for persons over the age of 18. Jury trial is available to all defendants in criminal matters.
The Court also has statewide jurisdiction, concurrent with Superior Court, in civil actions where the amount in controversy does not exceed $50,000.00 on the complaint. There is no limitation in amount on counterclaims and no right to a jury trial in civil cases. Petitions for change of name are heard in the Court, as well as habitual offender hearings on the privilege of operating a motor vehicle.
The Court also has jurisdiction over appeals from Justice of the Peace and Alderman's Courts, as well as administrative appeals from the Division of Motor Vehicles.
In May of 1998, Municipal Court merged with Court of Common Pleas and the Justice of the Peace Court.
An Overview Of Criminal Procedures and Process
The Court receives approximately 97% of its criminal cases from the Justice of the Peace Courts, and a relatively small percentage is received from Alderman's Courts. These charges are transferred to the Court because the lower court may not have jurisdiction, or at the request of the defendant. All defendants have a right to have their cases heard in the Court of Common Pleas by a law-trained judge, as well as a right to a jury trial. The remaining 3% of criminal cases result from filings received directly from the Attorney General.
After being arraigned, where the defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty, the case is scheduled for a case review or trial, depending on the matter. If a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty, the judge may sentence immediately, or may order a presentence report.
A presentence report is a detailed report prepared for the Judge, which includes such information as the individual's family background, employment history, educational background and criminal history. The Judge reviews the presentence report prepared by Court staff and uses the information, along with appropriate sentencing guidelines, to arrive at an appropriate penalty. These reports are ordered for all of the more serious offenses, especially where the possibility exists that the defendant may be incarcerated.
The Court receives matters scheduled for Preliminary Hearing from the Justice of the Peace Courts. These hearings are to determine if probable cause exists in felony cases. The prosecution must present evidence that there is probable cause to believe that the offense(s) were committed and the defendant committed the offense(s). If the Court finds that probable cause exists, the matter is bound over to Superior Court. If the Court does not find that probable cause exists, the matter is dismissed.
Overview Of a Civil Jurisdiction
Once a civil case has been filed and before a trial date is given in the matter, the Court schedules a pretrial conference. At the conference, the parties meet with a judicial officer in an attempt to narrow the issues, the witnesses to be called, the length of the trial, and to discuss the possibility of settlement.
On Change of Name Petitions, petitioners must be residents of the State of Delaware in the county in which the petition is filed. Before a hearing is scheduled, notice that one is requesting the Court to change a name must be given to the public. This is done by having the Petition for Name Change and Affidavit published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county in which the petitioner resides for three consecutive weeks. The Petitioner must also notice certain interested parties of the desired name change (i.e., mother or father of the child whose name is being changed.) At the hearing, the Court hears testimony as to why the petitioner and any other witnesses called by the petitioner desire the change of name and, thereafter, the Court hears testimony from other interested parties in favor or in opposition to the name change. The Court then renders its decision.
Under the Habitual Offenders Act, the Attorney General's Office may file a petition and request the Court to find a named person an habitual offender under Title 21 of the Delaware Motor Vehicle Code. An habitual offender under the motor vehicle code is a person who has accumulated convictions for certain separate and distinct motor vehicle offenses within a proscribed time period. If, after a hearing, the Court finds that the person is an habitual offender, the person is not permitted to operate or drive a motor vehicle within the state for a period of five years. Title 21 Del.C. § 2809(4) does provide the opportunity for an individual to petition the Court for early restoration of driving privileges after a full three years has elapsed since the order declaring the individual a habitual offender was signed. The Court considers the petition if all financial obligations have been satisfied, and the individual has had no motor vehicle violations during the three years of being declared a habitual offender.