Courts postpone cases

Emergency order allows flexibility while while protecting public health
March 17, 2020

Court officials are saying anyone scheduled for court who has COVID-19 symptoms or has been exposed should not report but call court officials instead.

An emergency order issued March 16 keeps courts open while suspending speedy trial guidelines to give courts flexibility in scheduling in light of national and state emergencies.

“I signed this emergency declaration after the President of the United States and the Governor of the State of Delaware declared national and state emergencies, and only after careful consideration by the Delaware Supreme Court and the other state courts,” said Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr. in a statement. “The judicial branch also heard from our justice partners about the urgent need to alter the way we handle criminal and civil cases in the Delaware courts. Declaring a judicial emergency is needed to protect our state employees and the public from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

Seitz signed the order under Delaware Code that allows a chief justice to declare a judicial emergency when emergency circumstances are present affecting one or more court facilities. The emergency declaration will be revisited every 30 days, or earlier if circumstances change, Seitz said. Trial courts may take additional measures now that they have more flexibility in scheduling, he said.

All Delaware courts have issued modified schedules, suspending many but not all court cases in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Justice of the Peace Court

In the Justice of the Peace Courts, all criminal proceedings requiring in-court appearances Tuesday, March 17, through Thursday, April 16, will be rescheduled to Friday, May 1, or later. The exceptions include all scheduled criminal trials and emergency bail reviews. Scheduled proceedings for individuals in custody will proceed as usual, and JP courts will continue to handle walk-in business, officials said.

“In the event a litigant scheduled to appear in the Justice of the Peace Court has been infected, or potentially exposed to, the COVID-19 virus, the litigant should not report for the proceeding, but should promptly notify the court,” officials said.

For civil proceedings that include landlord/tenant disputes, debt and trespass proceedings, in-court appearances, and all evictions currently ordered that were scheduled March 17 through April 16, those proceedings are also rescheduled for May 1 or later.

An exception includes rulings needed in landlord-tenant matters over essential services or harm to a person or property. Other exceptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the court and with proper notice to all parties, officials said. 

JP Court will continue to issue rulings on criminal motions that do not require in-person appearances, officials said.

Court of Common Pleas

The court says that anyone infected with or possibly exposed to COVID-19 who is scheduled to appear in court should not attend. “That person should not attend the proceeding and promptly notify the opposing party and the court,” officials said.

All jury trials and in-court proceedings scheduled through May 1 will be rescheduled. Persons in custody awaiting jury trial will be given an opportunity to consider alternative proceedings, officials said.

Court action that will continue includes proceedings for people in custody or who need emergency bail review, which will be held through video conferencing or telephone if practicable, officials said. Treatment Court proceedings will proceed at the discretion of the judge, and other matters will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Superior Courts

All civil and criminal jury trials scheduled for Superior Court have been suspended until after Wednesday, April 15.

This includes anyone summoned for petit jury duty, officials said.

For the grand jury, which requires smaller groups of people, grand jurors should report as directed.

Pleas by appointment and cases in problem-solving court remain as scheduled, but all other court business is postponed. This includes final case review, Veteran's Court, Mental Health Court, Drug Court, and Violation of Probation hearings for nonincarcerated offenders. Violation of parole hearings for those incarcerated will be held at the discretion of the judicial officer.



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