Delaware Court Records
How Does the Delaware Justice of the Peace Court Work?
Most residents in Delaware first experience the state’s judicial system through the Justice of the Peace (JP) Court. Delaware’s Constitution, Article IV, Section 1 commissions the Justice of the Peace Court to act as the state’s entry-level court for various civil claims and criminal cases, and the court has done this since the 1600s.
The Justice of the Peace Court’s civil jurisdiction, outlined in 10 Del. C. § 9301, spans replevin (repossession of personal property), trespass, negligence (not involving physical injury), and debt actions where the amount in dispute is not greater than $25,000. Two examples of these types of cases are contract disputes and landlord/tenant cases (including summary possession actions). However, note that the financial limit of the Justice of the Peace Court in civil cases is adjusted every few years. The current $25,000 limit holds until August 9, 2021.
On the other hand, the court’s authority to hear criminal cases, as described by Title 11, Chapter 59 of the Delaware Code, extends to:
- Misdemeanors outlined in 11 Del.C. §2702.
- Criminal violations committed within the state.
- Truancy actions (Note: A specialized division called the Truancy Court typically handles these claims).
- Some juvenile offenses.
- Most motor vehicle (Title 21) offenses except felony offenses (crimes involving death or physical injury).
- Local and municipal violations.
- Fish and wildlife, and alcoholic beverage violations.
The Delaware Justice of the Peace Court occasionally serves as a “committing magistrate” for criminal offenses. This jurisdiction includes:
- Determining if sufficient grounds (probable cause) exist to issue a warrant or summons for a criminal offense.
- Issuing criminal warrants, search warrants, and bench or arrest warrants (also called “capiases”).
- Setting bail and conducting bond review hearings upon request.
The Justice of the Peace Court’s Civil Rules, Civil Violations Rules, and Criminal Rules, and Title 10, Part VII of the Delaware Code regulate the commencement, arraignment, hearing, and disposition of civil and criminal actions in this state court.
Appeals of the Justice of the Peace Court’s final judgments go to the Court of Common Pleas, except landlord/tenant rulings. Instead, these appeals go to a special 3-judge panel within the Justice of the Peace Court, as the court has exclusive civil and appellate jurisdiction over those cases.
With a mission to render accessible, convenient, and effective justice to the public, the court appoints judicial officers, called Justices of the Peace or Magistrates, to hear actions brought to it. Per 10 Del. C. § 9203, the number of Justices of the Peace in the state do not exceed 29 for the New Castle County, 12 for Kent County, and 19 for Sussex County. As of May 2021, this number was as follows:
- New Castle: 28
- Kent: 11
- Sussex: 18
In Delaware, individuals who become Justices of the Peace apply for the position. The only criteria to apply is to be a resident of Delaware and not less than 25 years old. The Magistrate Screening Committee (MSC) oversees the application and screening process. The committee screens each applicant and submits a list of promising candidates to the Governor, who then appoints a Justice of the Peace. However, every Justice of the Peace approved by the Governor must also be confirmed by the Senate.
Per Art. VI § 29 of the Delaware Constitution, a Justice of the Peace serves a 4-year term for the initial appointment, a 6-year term in the second and third appointment, and an 8-year term upon a fourth or subsequent appointment. The starting salary of a Justice of the Peace is $76,488 per year.
All Justices of the Peace must adhere to the Delaware Judges’ Code of Judicial Conduct. Rule 2.11 of this Code states the conditions for the disqualification of Justices, which include:
- If the Justice has a prejudice or personal bias against a case party
- If the Justice is closely related to a case party. For instance, as a spouse, domestic partner
- If the Justice or a member of the officer’s household has a financial or economic interest that could significantly affect the case’s outcome
Presently, the Justice of the Peace Court has locations across the state. Each location has jurisdiction over one or more case types, i.e., criminal, civil, traffic, DUI, and truancy. Individuals can find court addresses, directions, contact information (phone, fax, and email), and hours on the Justice of the Peace Court locations webpage.
The Delaware Judiciary provides access to open court records of the Justice of the Peace Court under the Freedom of Information Act. Therefore, anyone who wants to obtain a Justice of the Peace Court record can query the courthouse where the case was filed. Contact numbers, physical and electronic addresses can be obtained from the court’s locations page. Typically, courthouses are open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., except state holidays.
Alternatively, residents seeking to obtain civil case records of the Justice of the Peace Court can use the CourtConnect platform. If seeking the contact information of a criminal defendant, members of the public can also use the Request for Defendant Contact Information page for remote access.
The Justice of the Peace Court receives hundreds of thousands of civil, criminal, and traffic filings each year. According to the court’s annual caseload review, a sum of 353,644 criminal, civil, and traffic cases were filed by plaintiffs and 223,846 cases by defendants in FY 2020.