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1227-004 1 of 3

JUVENILE COURT - KENT AND SUSSEX COUNTIES

The “Juvenile Court of Kent and Sussex Counties” was established in 1933 and given jurisdiction in all cases “relating to children, including juvenile delinquents, truants, neglected, incorrigible, dependent, and unprotected children, and all other cases where the custody or legal protection of children is in question.1 Previously minors had been tried in the same courts that adults were tried. After 1923, Justice of the Peace and Courts of General Sessions could send minors to be tried in New Castle County Juvenile Court.2 The New Castle Juvenile Court was restricted to hearing cases involving males seventeen years old or younger and females eighteen years old or younger. The Juvenile Court’s jurisdiction did not extend to capital felony cases, for in these cases juveniles continued to be tried as adults and the court did not have probate jurisdiction.3

The 1933 Kent and Sussex court was presided over by the Kent County Common Pleas Judge, and court was held in each county courthouse. The clerk of juvenile court was the Kent County clerk of the Court of Common Pleas when the court met in Dover, and the Sussex County Clerk of the Peace was clerk of the court when it met in Georgetown. Each clerk kept the records of the cases that were tried in their county. They were required by law to keep “the Juvenile Court Record” and “The Juvenile Court Docket.” Each clerk was further required to submit an annual report to the Court of General Sessions which showed the number, disposition, parentage, and other useful information on the cases of delinquent, dependent, or neglected children.4

Other court officials included probation officers appointed by the judge. The chief probation officer had the authority to make arrests and to enter the home of any delinquent child. When minors were brought before the court, probation officers investigated the case, were present in court to represent the interests of the minor, furnished the court with information and assistance, took charge of the child before and after the trial, and made a social and psychological study of the child before final disposition. In the more serious cases, a psychiatric study, undertaken with the assistance of a mental hygiene clinic, was to be conducted.5

Cases could be brought before the court by any reputable citizen who had knowledge of delinquent, neglected, or dependent children. Citizens had to file a petition stating the facts of the case with the facts verified by an affidavit. Summonses were then issued by the court to require the minor and their guardian to appear before the court. Summonses were served by the sheriff, county constable, or a probation officer. The public was not permitted to be present at case hearings. Until the first hearing, the chief probation officer could parole the minor or place him in the state detention home.6 Appeals of court decisions were made to the resident associate judge of the county where the case arose and was heard.7

Depending on the outcome of the case, minors could be returned to their homes, but be subject to visits by the probation officer; they could be placed with a suitable family; or they could be committed to an institution. Males were often sent to the Delaware Industrial School for Girls or the Industrial School for Colored Girls.8 The court could commit minors to other institutions, associations, or religious institutions established for the care of children. Whenever the minor’s reformation was judged to be complete, the court could parole or discharge the minor from the said institution.9

The judge was responsible for appointing a Board of Visitation which was given the duty of visiting all institutions where children were placed by the court. This board regularly reported its finding to the Juvenile Court and the Superior Court. Minors placed with families were visited at least twice a year by probation officers or persons appointed by the Juvenile Court judge and reports of findings were made to the judge.10

1227-004 2 of 3

JUVENILE COURT - KENT AND SUSSEX COUNTIES

When Delaware’s judicial system was reorganized in 1951, the Juvenile Court of Kent and Sussex Counties was given additional jurisdiction and responsibilities. While continuing to deal with delinquent, neglected, and dependent children, they were also given the responsibility for prosecuting family members charged with offenses against children such as desertion and non-support cases; maintenance of illegitimate children; liability of relatives for support of a poor person or inmate at the State Welfare Home; cases involving abduction of minor children; sale of deadly weapons to a minor; and the unlawful placing or committing of a dependent child without written consent of the State Board of Welfare.11

The Juvenile Court was given concurrent jurisdiction in cases involving the custody of children when parents were separated but not divorced, offensive touching of female minors, and violations by minors of the Liquor Control Act. Cases could be transferred to Juvenile Court by the judges of the Superior Court, Court of General Sessions, or Orphans Court. The Juvenile Court continued to have no jurisdiction in cases where minors committed a capital felony.12

After the reorganization, the judge was appointed by the governor for a twelve-year term. If the judge was incapacitated, he could appoint a member of the bar to hold court, but the appointment had to be approved by Levy Court.13 In 1961 an additional judge was added to the court. One judge was required to be a resident of Kent County and one a resident of Sussex County.14

Clerks for each county were appointed by the judge with approval of the respective Levy Courts. In addition to keeping the court’s records, the clerk received all fees and fines; administered oaths; entered judgments; issued commitments, executions, processes, and warrants; and collected bail. In addition to the clerk the judge appointed a probation officer for each county. This appointment also required the approval of the respective Levy Courts. The probation officer’s duties continued as before the reorganization.15

Beginning in 1959, the judge was permitted to appoint masters from the bar of Kent and Sussex counties to hear cases, causes, or matters. Masters could issue legal processes to compel necessary parties and witnesses to attend hearings. At the conclusion of the hearing, the master was required to transmit all pages relating to the case, his findings, and recommendations to the judge. If the findings of the master were confirmed by an order of the judge, the order became the judgment of the court. Appeals could be made to the Superior Court. If the master’s findings and recommendations were not confirmed, the judge reheard the case.16

Prosecutions in Juvenile Court cases were without indictment by a grand jury and trials were held in private without a petit jury. Appeals could be made to the Court of General Sessions if the sentence involved imprisonment exceeding one month or a fine of more than one hundred dollars.17

In 1961 the court’s name was changed to the Family Court of Kent and Sussex Counties. Although the name changed, its functions remained the same as they had under the Juvenile Court.18

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JUVENILE COURT - KENT AND SUSSEX COUNTIES

1 38 D.L., ch. 197.

2 33 D.L., ch. 227.

3 38 D.L., ch. 197.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid. Rev. Code 1915, ch. 116. 33 D.L., ch. 228.

7 46 D.L., ch. 174.

8 Rev. Code 1935, ch. 116. 32 D.L., ch. 155.

9 Rev. Code 1935, ch. 116.

10 Ibid.

11 48 D.L., ch. 364.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 53 D.L., ch. 252.

15 48 D.L., ch. 364.

16 52 D.L., ch. 203.

17 48 D.L., ch. 364.

18 53 D.L., ch. 316.

rlg/January 27, 1988; January 28, 1988; August 22, 1989