Dismissal of Sussex vehicular assault case overturned

GEORGETOWN — The prosecution’s insufficient communication about an indictment did not unfairly prejudice a man accused in a Millsboro injury collision two years ago.

In a split decision, the Delaware Supreme Court overturned the dismissal of a case involving David M. Hazelton, charged with vehicular assault and driving under the influence of alcohol following an incident on May 13, 2016.

Administrative confusion followed Mr. Hazelton’s arrest, and he believed the matter would be handled in the Court of Common Pleas after posting a $3,800 secured bail there.

The Delaware Department of Justice, however, never addressed the case in CCP and instead secured an indictment in Superior Court on June 20, 2016. An warrant was obtained for Mr. Hazelton, who still apparently believed his case was in CCP.

When Mr. Hazelton and his attorney appeared for what they believed was a non-jury trial in CCP on Sept. 14, 2016, the defendant was arrested due to the outstanding warrant based on the Superior Court case.

After the defendant contested the introduction of charges in both jurisdictions, Superior Court initially dismssed the case. The state appealed to the Supreme Court, which issued a favorable 22-page ruling on Jan. 11 and revived the charges against Mr. Hazelton.

The post office was unable to deliver a mailed notice of the Superior Court indictment to Mr. Hazelton at a Millsboro address due to a “moved left no address, unable to forward.”

According to the ruling, the DOJ did not respond to Mr. Hazelton’s requests connected to the charges in CCP and filed for a prosecution in Superior Court at the same time.

The allegations against Mr. Hazelton were still in force, no matter which jurisdiciton, the court noted.

“He did not experience the relief of being told that charges were dismissed, only to suffer the anxiety of later being informed that they were reinstated in a different court,” the majority wrote.

The DOJ should have better informed the defendant of its course of action as a “professional courtesy,” according to the Supreme Court.

“The public is entitled to a higher standard of professionalism from the Department of Justice than what we see here,” the opinion maintained. “The Department should take steps to ensure that what happened here does not happen again.”

Arguing against the reversal, Justice Gary F. Traynor believed the Superior Court judge “acted within the bounds of his discretion in dismissing the indictment.” The justice stated that the confusion was “both unnecessary and attributable to the prosecution’s conduct.”

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