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DUIs headed back to Court of Common Pleas

Shannon McNaught * Delaware
shannon.marvel@doverpost.com
Milford Beacon

The Court of Common Pleas will soon have uniform DUI processes in all three counties.

On Jan. 7, Court of Common Pleas Chief Judge Alexander J. Smalls issued an administrative directive requiring case reviews in all Sussex DUI cases, effective Feb. 1.

Kent and New Castle county courts already require DUI case reviews. Smalls' directive is in response to an October 2019 Supreme Court order requiring it in Sussex.

According to Department of Justice spokesman Carl Kanefsky, the practice results in fewer dismissals and more offenders being held accountable and getting treatment.

“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 [had] been in conversation with the courts for months,” Kanefsky said.

“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,” said Sean O’Sullivan, Delaware Courts’ Chief of Community Relations. “Oftentimes, particularly in the criminal realm, it’s where prosecutors will offer plea deals.”

It’s also where discovery, or the sharing of evidence between the prosecutor and the defense attorney, often occurs.

In the meantime

Prosecutors found a way to get case reviews back in October. While waiting for the Supreme Court order to take effect, they’ve been bypassing the Court of Common Pleas and taking their DUI cases to Superior Court. Some defense attorneys frowned upon the practice.

“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 Abrams, 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.”

At least one Superior Court judge disagreed with the defense lawyers. In a Dec. 30 ruling that further clarified how DUIs will be handled going forward, Superior Court Judge Richard Stokes issued an opinion in the case of one of Abrams’ clients, Matthew Gleason.

State attorneys appealed Gleason’s case after it was dismissed from the Court of Common Pleas. A case review may have prevented the dismissal and Stokes ruled in the state’s favor, remanding the case back to the Court of Common Pleas.

According to Mat Marshall, communications director at the Delaware Department of Justice, state attorneys plan to being filing DUIs in the Court of Common Pleas again on Jan. 27. At that point, case reviews will be scheduled for Feb. 1 or later.