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State v. Barnes

Supreme Court of Delaware

June 2, 2015

STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff-Below, Appellee/Cross-Appellant,
v.
JEFFREY W. BARNES, Defendant-Below, Appellant/Cross-Appellee

Submitted May 20, 2015.

Case Closed July 8, 2015

Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware in and for Sussex County. C.A. No. S14M-01-002 THG.

Elizabeth R. McFarlan, Esquire, Sean P. Lugg, Esquire (argued), Karen V. Sullivan, Esquire, Kathryn J. Garrison, Esquire, State of Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, for the State of Delaware.

Robert H. Robinson, Jr., Esquire, Bernard J. O'Donnell, Esquire (argued), Office of Public Defender, Wilmington, Delaware, for Jeffrey W. Barnes.

Before STRINE, Chief Justice; HOLLAND, VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices, constituting the Court en banc.

OPINION

Page 884

STRINE, Chief Justice:

I. INTRODUCTION

This appeal involves a single question: whether the provisions of the Truth In Sentencing Act of 1989 (the " TIS Act" ) that indisputably abolished parole as to Title 11 and Title 16 of the Delaware Code also apply to felony DUI offenses imposed under § 4177 of Title 21. If the answer to that question is yes, as the State now argues, felony DUI offenders are ineligible for parole. But for nearly a generation, the judicial and administrative answer to the question has consistently been no. That is, the Superior Court and the Board of Parole have operated with the understanding that the provisions of the TIS Act that eliminated parole do not apply to felony DUI offenses. In addition, the Delaware Sentencing Accountability Commission (" SENTAC" ), which is statutorily charged with providing guidelines to courts and attorneys about sentencing practices in criminal cases, adhered to this position in its 2014 Benchbook. Because the Code can reasonably be interpreted to continue parole eligibility for DUI offenses, that long-standing judicial and administrative interpretation must be given great weight.[1] We thus adhere to principles of stare decisis and judicial restraint, and give the Code the reading most consistent with the settled expectations of the public.[2]

II. THE TRUTH IN SENTENCING ACT

The General Assembly passed the Truth In Sentencing Act on July 17, 1989, to provide more certainty about the length of sentences to be served by criminal defendants.[3] The TIS Act expressly amended statutes contained in Titles 11 and 16 only,

Page 885

although many of the amended provisions, including those governing the accumulation of good time credits, had previously been applied to offenses contained in other titles by the interaction of the Code's provisions.[4] Most relevant to this appeal, the TIS Act amended 11 Del. C. § 4205 to state, " [n]o sentence to Level V incarceration imposed pursuant to this Section is subject to parole." [5] Section 4205 is a backbone provision of Title 11 that sets forth certain minimum and maximum sentences for levels of felonies contained in ...


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