Case reviews, longer adjudication period now required; rate of dismissed charges is much higher in Sussex.
The Supreme Court of Delaware has issued an order changing the way DUI cases are handled in Sussex County, requiring case reviews and a longer adjudication period.
The order, issued Oct. 2, came after conversations between state prosecutors at the Attorney General’s office and the Supreme Court.
The prosecutors were unhappy with the process and the fact that Sussex was handling DUIs differently than the other counties.
New Castle and Kent counties have adopted “DUI courts” in recent years. These courts favor treatment and monitoring for most DUI offenders. Unlike the Sussex County Court of Common Pleas, New Castle and Kent’s DUI courts also allow for case reviews and have generally longer case timelines.
“A case review is basically an early chance for all parties to look at the case to see if it can be resolved short of trial,” O’Sullivan said. “Oftentimes, particularly in the criminal realm, it’s where prosecutors will offer plea deals.”
According to spokesman Carl Kanefsky at the Department of Justice, implementing case reviews and allowing for more time in DUI cases will result in fewer dismissals and more DUI offenders being held accountable, with a higher likelihood of getting treatment.
Kanefsky said, “DUI arrests are disproportionately and unacceptably high in Sussex County, even as the other two counties have cut their DUIs by more than half over the last decade. The status quo posed a daily threat to public safety, and so we have been in conversation with the courts for months.”
According to data from the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System, Sussex had hundreds more DUI arrests in 2017 and 2018 than New Castle, despite having less than half of New Castle’s population. In 2017, 84 percent of all DUI case dismissals occurred in Sussex.
Kanefsky said DUI arrest numbers in Sussex don’t vary greatly from month to month, suggesting that tourists aren’t to blame.
The Supreme Court order requires all non-incarcerated DUI offenders’ cases to be “adjudicated as to guilt or innocence or otherwise disposed of” within 150 days, as opposed to the former 90 days. Incarcerated offenders’ cases have 90 days.
The order also gives the Court of Common Pleas 45 days to implement case reviews. In the meantime, state prosecutors have been filing their DUI cases in Superior Court to get a case review, a practice frowned upon by defense attorneys.
“We want to stress to you that moving your case to Superior Court was a unilateral decision made by DOJ, led by Attorney General Kathleen Jennings,” stated a notice sent to clients of the Law Office of Michael Abram, in Georgetown. “Defense attorneys … have made it clear to the DOJ that this process will not help achieve their stated goals, creates additional undue burdens on our clients and is offensive to any notion of justice.”
One of those “undue burdens” is that moving the cases to Superior Court could result in offenders being arrested twice.
The method prosecutors use to re-indict offenders in a different court is called “nolle prosequi,” a legal term referring to the formal abandonment of a case. According to Kanefsky, nolle prosequi requires an arrest warrant be issued, rather than a court summons.
In these cases, the Department of Justice will send a letter to the defendant or their lawyer advising they turn themselves in to Superior Court.
“There are notes in the system that they are to be given own-recognizance bond and that they are not to be extradited (so if they live in another state, they won’t be held in jail),” Kanefsky said.
Despite proactive steps by the Department of Justice to prevent any re-arrests, the possibility still exists. Should an offender fail to turn themselves in in a timely manner and, say, get pulled over for speeding, they will be arrested on the new warrant.