Recent Positive Legislation Affecting Juveniles
The Delaware Office of Defense Services and various community partners successfully advocated for numerous pieces of legislation in 2018. The bills, many with bipartisan backing, advanced numerous causes including: expansion of juvenile expungement; enlargement of the Juvenile Civil Citation program; minimization of the use of minimum mandatory sentencing for juveniles; limitations on the housing of juveniles in adult prisons; and changes to when juveniles must be prosecuted as adults for certain firearm-related charges.
- House Bill 306 w/ HA 2 – Allows judicial discretion to return a juvenile to Family Court under certain circumstances in which a juvenile, aged 16 and over, is charged with Possession of a Firearm During Commission of a Felony (PFDCF). Now only PFDCF charges in which “the Superior Court finds proof positive or presumption great that a juvenile over the age of 16 used, displayed, or discharged a firearm during the commission of a felony” are subject to mandatory adult prosecution in Superior Court. All other charges over which Superior Court has original jurisdiction may be returned to Family Court after a reverse amenability hearing at the discretion of the Superior Court judicial officer.
- House Bill 307 HA 1 –Minimizes the minimum mandatory sentencing schemes for juveniles.
- In instances where a juvenile has been adjudicated of Possession of a Firearm During Commission of a Felony or Robbery 1st, the minimum sentence was reduced to 6 months of secure incarceration or institutional confinement for a first offense and 1 year of secure incarceration or institutional confinement for a second and each subsequent offense, which shall not be subject to suspension. Previously the requirement was a 12 month minimum mandatory commitment to institutional confinement.
- Juveniles, aged 15 and over, who are adjudicated of Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited and considered to need “mandated institutional treatment” are now be eligible to be placed at staff secured placements versus lock down facilities. Previously, the minimum age was 14 and these juveniles were subjected to 6 months of secure incarceration for the first offense and 12 months for the second and subsequent offense.
- Eliminated the portion of 10 Del C. Section 1009(e)(1) which required a 6 month minimum mandatory commitment for juveniles, aged 14 and over, who were adjudicated of a second felony offense within one year of the first adjudication for a felony offense. This minimum mandatory sentence is no longer required and the judicial officer has discretion to craft an appropriate disposition.
- House Bill 308 – Removes the two year sunset provision from the juvenile civil citation statute. This successful pre-arrest diversionary program is now permanent.
- House Bill 339 and House Bill 470 – Eliminates mandatory transfer of juveniles under the age of 18 to an adult facility upon a finding of non-amenability. Now, all detained juveniles pending trial in adult court are held in juvenile facilities, except in very limited circumstances. Transfer to an adult facility shall not occur unless there has been an adult conviction and sentence to a period of adult incarceration. As a result, less juveniles are held in adult facilities and the time spent in adult facilities has decreased.
- House Bill 402 – Eliminates the ability for the Delaware Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to suspend the driver’s license of a student who has been expelled from a public school. Previously, a school superintendent was required to notify the DMV any time a student was expelled from a public school, at which time the DMV was permitted to either suspend or refuse to issue/renew the expelled student’s license.
- House Bill 442 w/ HA 1 – Expands the Juvenile Civil Citation Program to include any first time juvenile offenders engaged in misdemeanor level behavior (with a few exceptions) to the civil citation program. Civil citation is a pre-arrest diversionary program that may include referrals for counseling and treatment, community service, or any other appropriate intervention. A juvenile who successfully completes the requirements of the civil citation program will not have an arrest or prosecution indicated on their record. A second referral to the civil citation program is allowed if 1 year has passed since the first referral and the second offense is not for the same misdemeanor. Previously, a juvenile was not eligible for a second referral until 18 months have passed since the first referral.
- Senate Bill 146 w/ SA 1 and SA 2 – Streamlines Delaware’s juvenile expungement code by providing the Delaware Family Court the option to immediately order an expungement in the event that a felony case was terminated in favor of the juvenile. This provision includes charges that are resolved by acquittal, nolle prosequi (dropped), dismissals, or successful completion of a diversionary program. Delaware law had already allowed the Court to grant an immediate expungement for misdemeanor and violation cases that were terminated in the juvenile’s favor.