Selected courtroom and legal terms used in Delaware
find a criminal defendant not guilty through a verdict or because the
evidence is insufficient, or because the charges have been dropped or
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
is the party against whom the appeal is taken.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
of a court proceeding is known as a continuance. A continuance must be
granted by a hearing officer of Superior Court.
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.
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.
person accused of committing a crime in a criminal case.
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.
order or judgment of the Court which acts as a final disposition of charges
prior to trial or conviction.
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.
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.
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.
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.
member of the jury, chosen first, acts as the chairman and spokesperson
for the jury.
a criminal case, to impeach is to challenge the credibility or validity
of the testimony of a witness.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
decision of the Court in which the law which applied to the case is explained,
and the reasons for the decision are expressed.
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
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.
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.
command issued by the Court to appear before the court on a certain date
Subpoena Duces TecumA
command issued by the court to appear before the court, and bring books,
papers, and other things specified in the subpoena.
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.
given by a witness under oath or affirmation in court, or through an affidavit
or a deposition.
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
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.
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.
person who is the object of the crime.
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.