Delaware Resources

JUVENILE CASE LAW

Brown v. State, 36 A.3d 321 (Del. 2012).
The defendant pled guilty to Robbery 1st Degree and Conspiracy 2nd Degree. The Family Court extended jurisdiction over the defendant past his eighteenth birthday, and sentenced him to a term of adult probation after he turned eighteen. Defendant appealed, claiming that Delaware law did not afford the Family Court the power to sentence a juvenile to adult probation without review.
The Delaware Supreme Court held that 11 Del. C. § 928(e) and (f) are the only two circumstances when the Family Court may sentence a juvenile to adult consequences without review. In Brown’s case, neither circumstance applied, and his case was remanded back to Family Court for a correction of sentence. The case reinforces the principle that juvenile proceedings are civil matters, and the purpose of sentencing in Family Court is rehabilitation, not simple punishment.

Arnold v. State, 49 A.3d 1180 (Del. 2012).
The defendant, an adult, was convicted of Terroristic Threatening. The defendant then received a gubernatorial pardon for the crime. The defendant then petitioned the Family Court to expunge his entire juvenile record, as he contended 10 Del. C. § 1013 entitled him to. The Family Court denied the petition and the defendant appealed.
The Delaware Supreme Court held that as a matter of clear statutory interpretation, a person is entitled to have his or her juvenile record expunged if he or she receives a pardon for any crime. 10 Del. C. § 1013 states, “Any individual who receives a Delaware gubernatorial pardon shall, as an effect of said pardon, automatically have that individual’s juvenile record, if any, expunged.” The Court found that the statute was clearly worded, and held that defendant was entitled to expungement.

Hunt ex rel. DeSombre v. State, — A.3d —-, 2013 WL 3193549 (Del. June 25, 2013).
This case was a tort and civil rights action brought by a juvenile. The case arose out of a wrongful detention of the juvenile at school by the school resource officer. The school resource officer detained the juvenile because of an incident regarding stolen money.
Relevant Point of Law: “A child’s age is one of the circumstances to be considered in evaluating the reasonableness of a seizure.” Id. at *3.

State v. Horton, 980 A.2d 1039 (Del. Fam. Ct. 2008).
The defendant entered a plea of nolo contendere to Endangering the Welfare of a Child and Unlawful Sexual Contact 3rd Degree. At sentencing, the State sought Tier I sex offender registration for the juvenile. Defense counsel opposed any registration on the registry.
The Family Court held that 11 Del. C. 4121(d)(6) allowed the court discretion to defer a decision on registration until after the juvenile had undergone sex offender treatment. The court also held that the statute also granted the court to relieve the juvenile of the obligation to register entirely as long as the relief is in the best interest of the victim and the public.

Watson v. State, 934 A.2d 901 (Del. 2007):
The defendant was found delinquent of 2 counts of rape second degree. Both the victim and defendant were 14 years-old and had been dating for 3 years. The victim denied ever having consensual sex with the defendant and claimed that he forced her to have sex twice. The defendant testified that the sex was consensual.
Just minutes before trial, the judge tried the defendant on an assault and robbery offense wherein the defendant had testified. The judge had found the defendant delinquent after determining he was not credible. However, the judge denied the defendant’s request in this case for a continuance to obtain a different judge. In this case, the evidence was “he said, she said” and the victim provided inconsistent statements.
On appeal, the Court applied the 2-part Los test (Los v. Los, 595 A.2d 381 (Del. 1991)) and held that the “appearance of bias was sufficient to doubt the judge’s ability to weigh the truthfulness of the testimony impartially.” While she met the subjective part of the test, believing she could be free from bias, she failed to meet the objective part.

Chakkira Wonnum v. State, 942 A.2d 569 (Del. 2007)
The defendant, a 17-year-old female, was charged with intentional murder, felony murder, robbery and other offenses based on a robbery she committed at the direction of her boyfriend. Prior to trial, the State filed a motion to exclude a psychological report conducted by the defendant’s expert. The court excluded the report without reading it and without allowing the defendant the opportunity to respond. Later, at trial, the defendant testified in her own defense that her boyfriend had repeatedly beaten her. One time in particular was when she did not complete a robbery as he ordered. However, the court denied defense counsel’s request for a duress-defense instruction as provided by 11 Del. C. §431.
On appeal, the Court held that the trial judge abused her discretion when she excluded the psych report without reading it or allowing the defendant to respond. The Court ruled that the report helped explain that the defendant did not “intentionally or recklessly place… herself” in the situation” whereby she was threatened by her boyfriend to commit the crimes.
Additionally, the Court held that the defendant’s testimony at trial coupled with the report that was excluded was sufficient evidence to warrant a duress-defense instruction. The jury, not the judge, is to assess the facts to determine whether the defendant was coerced by threat of bodily harm and was in imminent fear of bodily harm if she did not commit the robbery as Martin directed.
The judge committed harmless error when she told the jury that Wonnum testified that she was “17 years old.” This went to an element of one of the defendant’s offenses. However, there had been no dispute at trial as to the defendant’s age.

Alyssa Rambo v. State, 939 A.2d 1275 (Del. 2007)
The defendant, 15 years old, called the victim to pick her up at the playground. When the victim arrived, the defendant got in the car. The defendant then reached over, turned off the car and removed the keys from the ignition. Two masked men approached, demanded money and fired shots toward the victim who was not harmed. Later, in the presence of her grandparents and another family member, the defendant spoke with police and denied involvement. The defendant then spoke with police again, this time at the station. A family friend, Cannon went into the interrogation room with her. Police read Miranda and a voice can be heard on the audio tape indicating a willingness to talk. Police later testified that the defendant appeared to understand as she nodded affirmatively. The judge ruled the statement was admissible because of an implied waiver. The defendant was found delinquent of attempted murder first degree, robbery first degree and other offenses.
On appeal, the Court held that the tape did not reveal a clear waiver of the defendant’s rights as the detective breezed through Miranda and followed up with “do you want to talk?” The Court concluded that it was Cannon and not the defendant who responded “yes.” Applying stricter scrutiny because the defendant was a juvenile, the Court could not conclude that she knowingly and voluntarily waived her rights on implied waiver theory. The defendant and State agreed that attempted first degree murder was to be vacated because guilt was found on analysis of the elements of felony murder. Attempted felony murder is not recognized in Delaware.

Smith v. State, 918 A.2d 1144 (Del. 2007)
A mildly mentally retarded 14 year old boy was interrogated for 45 minutes at the police station regarding a sexual incident. The defense filed both a suppression motion and a competence to stand trial motion. The Family Court denied the suppression motion and found that the defendant was competent to stand trial.
On appeal, the Court considered whether a statement given to the police by a mildly mentally retarded juvenile was admissible at his delinquency trial. After viewing a portion of the videotaped statement and hearing testimony from the police officer and others, the Family Court concluded that the juvenile knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights. On review, the Court adhered to the totality of the circumstances test, but considered the juvenile’s mental limitations and the fact that his mother was not with him during the interview as significant factors. Having viewed the videotaped statement, and considering all of the circumstances, the Court concluded that the juvenile’s waiver was not knowing. Although the Court found that the juvenile was competent to stand trial, based on the suppression issue, the case was reversed and remanded for a new trial.

For an infosheet  on the Delaware vs. National Trends in Youth Incarceration prepared by the Delaware Office of Defense Services, click here.

For an infosheet on Myths vs. Facts on Youth Transfer Laws prepared by the Delaware Office of Defense Services, click here.

For an infosheet on Social Media and You-Law Enforcement and In Court prepared by the Delaware Office of Defense Services, click here.

For an infosheet on Collateral Consequences for Delaware youth (en espanol) prepared by the Delaware Office of Defense Services, click here.

For an infosheet on Collateral Consequences for Delaware youth (english) prepared by the Delaware Office of Defense Services, click here.

For an infosheet on Adult Court jurisdiction and Minimum Mandatory Sentencing in Juvenile Court prepared by the Delaware Office of Defense Services, click here.

For a brochure on Juvenile Detention Centers in Delaware prepared by the Delaware Office of the Public Defender, click here.

For an infosheet on Know Your Rights in School prepared by the Delaware Office of the Public Defender, click here.

For an infosheet on Know Your Rights with Police prepared by the Delaware Office of the Public Defender, click here.

For an infosheet on Juvenile Expungements In Delaware prepared by the Delaware Office of the Public Defender, click here.