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Martin v. State

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle County

September 1, 1955

Robert H. MARTIN, Defendant Below,
v.
The STATE of Delaware, Plaintiff Below.

Prosecution for operation of a motor vehicle recklessly or at a rate of speed greater than was reasonable and proper or so as to have caused a collision or so as to have endangered life and limb. The Municipal Court, City of Wilmington, imposed a sentence of imprisonment of thirty days upon defendant and denied defendant's application for allowance of an appeal, and defendant obtained issuance of a writ of certiorari. The Superior Court, New Castle County, Herrmann, J., held that where provision of Motor Vehicle Law provided that any person convicted thereunder should have right of an appeal, the word ‘ convicted’ was intended by the Legislature to be used in its common, usual and ordinary meaning of a judicial determination of guilty after an assertion of innocence, and consequently defendant who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to thirty days imprisonment was not entitled to an appeal.

Judgment affirmed.

[49 Del. 345] Frank O'Donnell, Deputy Atty. Gen., for the State.

John M. Bader, Wilmington, for the defendant below.

HERRMANN, Judge.

In the Municipal Court of the City of Wilmington, the defendant below (hereinafter called defendant) entered a plea of guilty to an information which charged that he ‘ * * * did then and there operate a motor vehicle * * * recklessly, or at a rate of speed greater than was reasonable and proper * * * or so as to have caused a collision * * * or so as to have endangered life or limb * * *.’ The Municipal Court imposed

Page 686

a sentence of imprisonment for thirty days[1] and denied the defendant's application for the allowance of an appeal to this court. The defendant obtained the issuance of a writ of certiorari out of this court and he now asserts that the proceedings of the court below were conducted unlawfully because:

1) The information failed to plainly and fully inform the defendant of the nature of the accusation against him; and

2) The Municipal Court is unlawfully depriving the defendant of an appeal to this court.

There is no merit in the contention that the judgment below must be reversed because the information was ‘ vague, uncertain, ambiguous and duplicitous.’ It does not appear that such objection to the information was made prior to the plea and sentence. The failure to make a timely objection of this type constitutes a waiver thereof. See Ray v. State, 6 Boyce 440, 100 A. 472; Criminal Rule 12(b)(2), Del.C.Ann.

[49 Del. 346] The second contenton of the defendant presents more difficulty. It is asserted that the Municipal Court is wrongfully depriving the defendant of a statutory right of appeal from that court to this court. This contention is based upon the following provision of the Motor Vehicle Law, being 21 Del.C. § 708:

‘ Any person convicted under the provisions of this title [Motor Vehicles] shall have the right of an appeal, unless otherwise stated in this title to the Superior Court, upon giving bond in the sum of $500 to the State with surety satisfactory to the Mayor, justice of the peace, or a judge before whom such person was convicted, such appeal to be taken and bond given within 15 days from the time of conviction. Such appeal shall operate as a stay or supersedeas of all proceedings in the court below in the same manner that a certiorari from the Superior Court operates. The taking of such appeal shall constitute a waiver by the appellant of his right to a writ of certiorari in the Superior Court.’

The question for decision is this: Does the word ‘ convicted’, as used in 21 Del.C. § 708, include the status of the defendant who pleaded guilty in the court below?

The word ‘ convicted’ is ambiguous; it is ‘ verbum aequivocum’ . Francis v. Weaver, 76 Md. 457, 25 A. 413, 415. The meaning of the word usually varies with the context of the statute in which it is used. See State v. DeBery, Me., 103 A.2d 523, 524. In its technical legal sense, the word includes the status of being guilty of, and sentenced for, a criminal offense, whether that status is established after confession of guilt by a guilty plea or after the decision of a tribunal upon an assertion of innocence. See State v. Exum, 3 W.W.Harr. 93, 130 A. 854. In common parlance, however, a person has been ‘ convicted’ when he has asserted his innocence and has been found guilty by jury or court. See Francis v. Weaver, supra; Commonwealth v. Minnich, 250 Pa. 363, 95 A. 565, 566, L.R.A.1916B, 950; Commonwealth v. Gorham, 99 Mass. 420. In the American College Dictionary, [49 Del. 347] the word ‘ convict’ is defined: ‘ To prove or declare guilty of an offense, esp. after a legal trial.’

A similar problem of statutory construction confronted the Supreme Court of Colorado in People v. Brown,87 Colo. 261, 286 P. ...


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