McGuiness case going to Kent County grand jury

Defense questioned New Castle County venue
June 1, 2022

The state withdrew its New Castle County case against State Auditor Kathy McGuiness June 1 and plans to submit the case to a Kent County grand jury on Monday, June 6.

The Attorney General’s Office abandoned the case in New Castle County Superior Court after McGuiness’s attorney Steve Wood raised concerns over the venue during what was supposed to be the first day of McGuiness’s trial on charges of felony theft, intimidation, violating state procurement law, and official misconduct. McGuiness has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The state entered a motion of nolle prosequi without prejudice and has indicated it will submit the case to a Kent County grand jury on Monday, June 6, officials said. If an indictment is returned, the court will confer with counsel in establishing a new date for trial.

During a pretrial motion May 31 before the jury was set to hear the state’s case against McGuiness, defense attorney Wood questioned whether the case should be tried in New Castle County since, he said, there is no proof that the alleged crimes happened in New Castle County.

“They applied a novel theory of jurisdiction,” said Wood while addressing New Castle County Superior Court Judge William Carpenter.

McGuiness was indicted in 2021 by a New Castle County grand jury, and soon after, Attorney General Kathy Jennings held a press conference in Wilmington announcing the indictment. Since then, months of motions and proceedings have been held in New Castle County Superior Court.

Jurisdiction and venue are an essential fact that has not been established by the prosecution or included in the indictment, Wood said.

Maria Knoll, chief of appeals for the Department of Justice, said the case should be allowed to proceed in New Castle County since the state auditor serves all three counties. She said the indictment notified McGuiness of the charges against her, and on its face value was sufficient.

Carpenter had agreed that the indictment is sufficient to move forward, but he said there was concern over the venue. The issue was whether to break from a tradition of trying someone in a venue within the county where they allegedly committed a crime, or if McGuiness’ elected status takes precedence.

Trying McGuiness in New Castle County for a crime she did not commit there would be like trying her in New Castle County if she had committed murder in Sussex County, Carpenter said. 

“I’m not going to dismiss, but we should anticipate that the issue of venue remains,” he said, before the state ultimately made the decision to pursue a grand jury indictment in Kent County.

Deputy Attorney General Mark Denney and Wood declined to comment following the May 31 court proceeding.

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