Steigler v. Superior Court In and For New Castle County

Decision Date31 March 1969
Citation252 A.2d 300
PartiesHerbert F. STEIGLER, Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT of the State of Delaware, IN AND FOR NEW CASTLE COUNTY, andthe Honorable Andrew D. Christie, an Associate Judge of said Court, Respondents.
CourtSupreme Court of Delaware

Upon petition for writ of prohibition and motion to dismiss the petition. Motion denied; petition denied.

William E. Taylor, Jr., Wilmington, for petitioner.

Jerome O. Herlihy, Deputy Atty. Gen., Wilmington, for respondents.

WOLCOTT, C.J.; CAREY and HERRMANN, JJ., sitting.

HERRMANN, Justice:

The petitioner, Herbert F. Steigler, was indicted for three murders in the first degree. His petition to be released on bail was denied by the Superior Court after a hearing held pursuant to the instructions of this Court. See In re Steigler, Del., 250 A.2d 379 (1969).

Two petitions to this Court ensued: Steigler first filed a motion for an order of this Court admitting him to bail or, alternatively, to reverse the order of the Superior Court refusing to admit him to bail. This Court denied that motion for the reasons herein reported. Thereupon, Steigler brought on a petition for a writ of prohibition. In support of that petition, Steigler contended (1) that the denial of bail violates his basic constitutional rights; and (2) that the indictment and warrant of arrest issued thereunder are fatally defective. Therefore, the petitioner urged, a writ of prohibition should issue to prohibit the Superior Court from attempting to exercise jurisdiction over him by trying him for the offenses alleged in the indictment; or, alternatively, to vacate the order of the Superior Court denying bail and to remand with instructions to admit the petitioner to bail on his own recognizance. The State moved to dismiss the petition on the ground that there is no jurisdictional basis for the writ.

Because of the nature of the application, we entered an order prior to written opinion, upon briefs and arguments and review of the record, denying both the motion to dismiss and the petition for prohibition. The reasons for that order are also reported herein.

I.

First, the application that this Court admit the defendant to bail:

Except for inherent powers, this Court has only such powers as are granted to it by statute or the Constitution, expressly or by necessary implication. There is no statutory or constitutional authority vested in this Court to grant bail prior to conviction. Generally, the courts of original criminal jurisdiction are given such bail powers (11 Del.C.Ch. 21; 10 Del.C.Ch. 33; 10 Del.C. §§ 1323, 1523, 1724) except that by recent enactment (11 Del.C. § 2103(b)) the Superior Court alone is authorized to admit to bail where a capital offense is charged.

By virtue of 11 Del.C. § 4502, this Court may grant bail after conviction and pending an appeal. 1 But we find no authority for the grant of bail prior to conviction. Accordingly, we denied the defendant's application for bail.

II.

As to the defendant's motion that we reverse the order of the Superior Court refusing to admit the defendant to bail:

Clearly, the motion amounts to an appeal from an interlocutory order in a criminal cause. Under Art. 4 Del.Const § 11(1)(b), Del.C.Ann., this Court lacks jurisdiction to receive such an appeal. Hodsdon v. Superior Court etc., Del., 239 A.2d 222 (1968); Norman v. State, 4 Storey 395, 177 A.2d 347 (1962). Accordingly, we denied the application to reverse the order below denying bail.

III.

Turning now to the State's motion to dismiss the petition for writ of prohibition:

As the first ground for the petition, the defendant contended that the indictment and the warrant of arrest issued thereunder are fatally defective. If this were so, the Superior Court would lack jurisdiction over the subject matter and the person of the defendant; and the writ of prohibition would lie to bar the Superior Court from proceeding with the trial. Bennethum v. Superior Court etc., 2 Storey 92, 153 A.2d 200 (1959); Raduszewski v. Superior Court etc., Del., 232 A.2d 95 (1967). Thus, this facet of the defendant's petition was proper.

The second ground of the petition was more questionable: The defendant contended that the Superior Court lost jurisdiction to enter the order denying bail because, in the process, the defendant's basic constitutional rights were violated.

The appellant thus invoked a comparatively lesser-known element of jurisdiction. In addition to the well-known elements of jurisdiction over the subject matter and over the person, jurisdiction of the court to enter a particular order or judgment is deemed equally essential to its validity. And an order may be void for want of jurisdiction by reason of extreme irregularities in the proceedings, other than lack of jurisdiction over the offense and the person, as where fundamental constitutional rights have been violated during the course of the proceedings leading to the order. See 39 Am.Jur. (2d) 'Habeas Corpus' §§ 29, 30. This element of jurisdiction is demonstrated in Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 58 S.Ct. 1019, 1024, 82 L.Ed. 1461, 146 A.L.R. 357 (1938). There, the United States Supreme Court stated that compliance with a constitutional mandate is an essential jurisdictional prerequisite to a court's authority to deprive a defendant of life or liberty; that a court's jurisdiction, though existent at the beginning of a proceeding, may be 'lost' in the course of the proceedings by deprivation of constitutional rights and, thereafter, the court 'no longer has jurisdiction to proceed.' See also United States v. Augenblick, 393 U.S. 348, 89 S.Ct. 528, 21 L.Ed.2d 537 (1969).

Accordingly, we concluded that a writ of prohibition may lie where the lower court has lost jurisdiction to enter the order in question, by reason of violation of a defendant's fundamental constitutional rights, provided that there is no other adequate legal remedy. Compare Matushefske v. Herlihy, Del., 214 A.2d 883, 886 (1965).

In the instant case, as indicated above, we have held that there is no right of appeal to this Court from an order denying bail. There is, therefore, no adequate remedy at law to review such an order and prohibition will lie to bar the lower Court from proceeding thereunder in violation of the defendant's fundamental constitutional rights. Compare Canaday v. Superior Court etc., 10 Terry 332, 116 A.2d 678 (1955).

Accordingly, we denied the State's motion to dismiss the petition for the writ.

We arrive, therefore, at the merits of the petition.

IV.

The attack upon the warrant of arrest was based upon the contention that it was issued without either a showing of probable cause or a valid indictment. Since there was no preliminary hearing and finding of probable cause prior to indictment, and since the warrant was issued under the indictment pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 9, 2 we turn to the attack upon the indictment.

The defendant contended that the indictment is fatally defective because the Grand Jury proceeding was completely ex parte and no minutes were kept; and because the evidence presented to the Grand Jury was obtained in violation of the defendant's constitutional rights and would be inadmissible at trial; all asserted to be in violation of the defendant's constitutional right to be free from arrest on a warrant except upon sworn statement showing probable cause or a proper Grand Jury indictment, citing Giordenello v. United States, 357 U.S. 480, 78 S.Ct. 1245, 2 L.Ed.2d 1503 (1958); Aguilar v. United States, 378 U.S. 108, 84 S.Ct. 1509, 12 L.Ed.2d 723 (1964); and Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 68 S.Ct. 367, 92 L.Ed. 436 (1948).

These contentions of the defendant were held to be without merit. The secrecy of the proceedings of a Delaware Grand Jury, as an ex parte accusatorial and inquisitional body, is deeply rooted in the common law and is beyond question in this jurisdiction. The defendant was not entitled to be present during the Grand Jury proceedings, either personally or by counsel, was not entitled to present evidence, and was not entitled as a matter of right to learn the nature of the proceedings by inspection of minutes. See Petition of Jessup, 11 Terry 530, 136 A.2d 207 (1957); State v. Konigsberg, 33 N.J. 367, 164 A.2d 740, 89 A.L.R.2d 345 (1960).

As to the nature of the evidence considered by the Grand Jury as the basis for its indictment, there are two observations: First, the record before us did not disclose the evidence that was presented to the Grand Jury. We were, therefore, not in a position to adjudge its adequacy. Secondly, there is no judicial regulation of the kind or quantum of evidence a Grand Jury may consider in the performance of its common law accusatorial function. The Grand Jury is free to act in the performance of that function without aid of Attorney General, or Judge, or other person learned in the law. In the absence of constitutional or statutory requirement, there is no judicial review of the propriety or the efficacy of the evidence considered by the Grand Jury to be adequate for indictment. Compare State v. Winsett, 7 Storey 392, 200 A.2d 692 (1964).

We concluded, therefore, that the indictment and the resultant warrant of arrest are unassailable on the grounds asserted; that, therefore, the Superior Court had jurisdiction of the subject matter and the person.

V.

Next, there was the contention that the Superior Court lost jurisdiction to enter the order denying bail because the bail hearing held by that Court pursuant to the instructions of this Court violated fundamental constitutional rights of the defendant in several respects:

1) It was argued that the burden of proof imposed upon the defendant denied him due process and equal protection of the law. For the reasons set forth in In re Steigler, Del., 250 A.2d 379 (1969) we find no merit in that contention.

2) It was contended that certain evidence admitted at the bail hearing was obtained in...

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