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Munce v. Justice of Peace Court No. 14

Superior Court of Delaware

February 8, 2019

JACLYN MUNCE, Complainant in Error,
v.
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE COURT NO. 14, STATE OF DELAWARE, AND MAGISTRATE MICHELLE JEWELL, Defendants in Error.

          Submitted: February 5, 2019

          Upon the State of Delaware's Motion to Dismiss Defendant's Petition for Writ of Certiorari.

          Stephen W. Welch, Esquire, Law Office of Edward C Gill, P.A., Georgetown, Delaware, Attorney for Petitioner/Defendant.

          Caroline C. Brittingham, Esquire, Delaware Department of Justice, Georgetown, Delaware, Attorney for the State of Delaware.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARSNITZ, J.

         Nature of the Proceedings

         Petitioner Defendant Jacyln Munce[1] filed a petition for Writ of Certiorari asking this Court to review a judgment of the Justice of the Peace Court ("JP Court")- That judgment vacated Defendant's plea and sentence to a misdemeanor first offense charge of driving under the influence. The JP Court's decision allowed the State of Delaware ("State") to indict Defendant on the more serious charge of felony third offense driving under the influence. Defendant seeks to have the Order set aside.

         Factual Background[2]

         This case proves the vitality of Murphy's Law. Defendant was arrested on July 9, 2018, and charged with driving under the influence pursuant to 11 Del. C. §4177(a) and another minor offense. She was scheduled to be arraigned in JP Court on July 27, 2018. At her arraignment, Defendant pled guilty to the charge as a first offense and was sentenced to a period of supervised probation and a $500.00 fine. Eighteen days later, the State filed a motion entitled "Motion to Correct Illegal Sentence" with JP Court. The motion was treated as a motion to vacate Defendant's sentence. The motion asserted that the defendant had two prior convictions that would qualify as "prior offenses, "[3] triggering the enhanced penalties of 21 Del. C. §4177(d)(3). Why information about the prior offenses was not known at an early time or, in particular, at the time the plea was entered and the sentence imposed is unknown.

         The parties submitted legal authorities to JP Court and a hearing was held following which the parties made further written submissions to the Court. On November 28, 2018, the Justice of the Peace Court issued a decision granting the State's motion to vacate the plea and sentence. The Court determined it had no jurisdiction to hear the case against defendant.[4]

         The State's argument was straight forward. Section 4177(d)(3)-(9) of Title 21 elevates any driving under the influence charge that is a third offense or more to a felony and, therefore, any such charge falls outside the subject matter jurisdiction of JP Court. Specifically, 21 Del. C. §4177(d)(12)provides:

The Court of Common Pleas and Justice of the Peace Courts shall not have jurisdiction over offenses which must be sentenced pursuant to paragraph (d)(3), (d)(4), (d)(5), (d)(6), (d)(7), (d)(8) or (d)(9) of this section.

         According to the State, the entire processing of the case against defendant was void ab initio and the guilty plea and sentence were property vacated.

         The State now has indicted defendant in Superior Court for felony driving under the influence. In response, Defendant has filed a petition for Writ of Certiorari asking this Court to enter an order requiring JP Court to vacate its November 28, 2018 order, and restore Defendant's original conviction of first offense driving under the influence. Of course, to Defendant the action is critical. If the requested relief is granted, she will suffer the more modest penalties associated with first offender status. If the relief is not given, and she either ...


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