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DELAWARE COURTS SYNOPSIS/ADMINSTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS

Justice in colonial Delaware, during the Duke of York and William Penn periods, was dispensed through a county court system. These courts were held by justices of the peace who were also responsible for administering county government, especially levying taxes. The single county courts gradually evolved into separate county courts responsible for hearing civil, criminal, or equity cases and into the Levy Court which levied taxes and performed the administrative functions of the county government. By 1793 the justices of the peace had been reduced to hearing minor civil and criminal cases, as they still do today. Interestingly, the separation between the Levy Court and the Judicial Courts was never complete. Courts continued to approve construction of roads, ditches, and mill dams; approved the granting of liquor licenses; appointed some county officials; and has some responsibilities relating to the poor, blacks, and the insane. The Levy Court has parallel responsibilities in these areas.

Major changes in this century have resulted in the county courts being combined and made part of a statewide court system. The growth of the first colonial court to the courts of the present has been substantial as is reflected by the following chronology listing the major changes:

1683 Orphans Court established under Penn’s government to care for orphans. Responsibility for guardianship of minors, real estate left interstate, partition of real estate, adoptions, and hearing appeals from register of wills’ decision were later added.

1684 The Provincial Court, forerunner of the Supreme Court, founded to hear appeals and consider capital criminal cases.

ca. 1701 Court of Quarter Sessions (General Sessions) evolves from the county court to hear non-capital criminal cases. Court of Common Pleas evolves from the county court to hear civil cases.

ca. 1719 Supreme Court evolves from William Penn’s Provincial Court. Court of Oyer and Terminer first mentioned in Delaware Laws; responsible for trying capital criminal cases.

1726-1736 Court of Equity established to hear equity cases. Court for the Trial of Negroes created to try slaves charged with capital crimes.

1776 Court of Appeals established to hear appeals from the Supreme Court Constitution

1789 Court for the Trial of Negroes abolished; cases formerly heard now tried in Court of Quarter Sessions.

1792 Court of Chancery established with chancellor as presiding judge to hear equity and Constitution chancery cases. Court of Appeals name changes to High Court of Errors and Appeals and hears appeals from Common Pleas, Supreme, and Chancery Courts. Supreme Court loses most of its appellate power; hears appeals from Orphans Court and the Register’s Court. Civil suits now originate in Supreme Court.

1793 Court of Equity abolished; Court of Chancery takes over its functions. Levy Court Commissioners are now elected.

1797 Court of the Trial of Negroes re-established for one crime: attempted rape of a white woman.

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DELAWARE COURTS SYNOPSIS/ADMINSTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS

1802 The chancellor was made the only judge of the Orphans’ Court.

1827 Court for the Trial of Negroes abolished.

1831 Court of Common Pleas and Supreme Court abolished and replaced by Superior Court to Constitution hear civil cases.

1897 Court of Errors and Appeals abolished and replaced by the Supreme Court to be the Constitution highest appellate court.

Court in Banc formed to consider questions of law from the Superior Court, Court of Oyer and Terminer, and Court of General Sessions.

1911 Juvenile Court of Wilmington established to hear cases where custody or legal punishment of children was in question.

1917 Court of Common Pleas for New Castle County was established to relieve Superior and General Sessions of their heavy workload.

1923 Juvenile Court of Wilmington extended to include all New Castle County.

1931 Court of Common Pleas for Kent County established.

1933 Juvenile Court for Kent and Sussex Counties established.

1945 Juvenile Court for New Castle County replaced by the Family Court of New Castle County.

1951 Court of General Sessions and Court of Oyer and Terminer abolished and their duties given to Superior Court.

1953 Court of Common Pleas for Sussex County established.

1961 Juvenile Court for Kent and Sussex County replaced by Family Court.

1970 Orphans’ Court abolished; responsibility for adoptions and terminations of parental rights given to Superior Court, all other responsibilities given to Court of Chancery.

1971 Family Court made a statewide court.

1973 Court of Common Pleas made a statewide court.

1980 Responsibility for adoptions and terminations of parental rights transferred from Superior Court to Family Court.

rlg; (11/21/88, date written); December 8, 1988; April 20, 1989