The scheduled start of trial testimony in the criminal public corruption trial of Delaware auditor Kathy McGuiness was delayed Tuesday over a technicality.
The delay could mean the trial begins on Wednesday or potentially weeks from now, depending on how prosecutors decide to proceed. The parties are due back in court on Wednesday to discuss the way forward with the judge.
The delay is due to a motion filed by Steve Wood, McGuiness’ attorney, before the scheduled start Tuesday of testimony in the criminal trial, the first for a statewide elected official in Delaware history.
Wood decided to dismiss the charges, arguing that McGuiness’ offices are in Dover, so court rules and precedent require that she be tried in Kent County and not in the Kent County courtroom. New Castle where members of the public and the press had gathered.
In October, a New Castle County grand jury found probable cause to charge McGuiness with two felonies and multiple public corruption offenses based on prosecutors’ claims that she gave her daughter a small job at the office of the auditor, rigged government contract payments to avoid regulatory scrutiny, and intimidated those who questioned his behavior.
The indictment formalizes the criminal charges against a person and gives them official notice of the charges they face and the conduct that prosecutors believe warrants those charges.
Typically, defendants are indicted by a grand jury in the county in which investigators believe a crime was committed. Prosecutors chose to charge McGuiness in New Castle County because she is a statewide elected official.
On Tuesday morning, Wood argued to Judge William Carpenter that court rules require the indictment to be issued in the county where the criminal conduct occurred and, because that was not the case, that the indictment and the case be dismissed.
Carpenter disagreed with this argument, saying the indictment was enough to move forward.
However, Wood also argued that the law requires prosecutors to not only prove to the jury that the offense occurred and was a violation of the law, but that they must also prove that the offense occurred. in the county in which the case was charged.
“Ultimately, the state could have charged this case in Kent County and we wouldn’t be here today,” Wood told the court.
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Wood told the court he intended to file a motion for acquittal asking the judge to dismiss the case once prosecutors present evidence showing that none of the alleged crimes took place in the New Castle County.
In response, prosecutors argued that McGuiness’s status as a statewide elected official whose alleged crimes affected citizens of each of Delaware’s three counties legitimizes the current location of New Castle County. .
Carpenter said prosecutors’ arguments “turn” decades upon decades of legal precedent “on its head.” But Carpenter has taken no official action as a motion for acquittal is made every time prosecutors finish presenting evidence they were due to begin presenting to a jury on Tuesday.
Carpenter said prosecutors’ argument that McGuiness’s status as a statewide public servant would mean she could be tried anywhere “causes concern.” He compared it to McGuiness being charged with murdering someone in Sussex County and then being tried in New Castle County, saying it would be a ‘radical change’ from centuries of judicial precedent in Delaware.
And so, the situation leaves prosecutors with a choice: Proceed with scheduled trial testimony this week and risk the judge invalidating the entire proceeding afterwards or drop the indictment against McGuiness and re-indict her in Kent County, where the trial would take place at an undetermined date.
Wood also indicated that if prosecutors decide to re-indict the case, he will argue that it should be dismissed entirely due to prosecutors’ inability to resolve the matter and bring McGuiness to justice more quickly.
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After Carpenter’s statements, the court adjourned for prosecutors to consider their options. Eventually, the parties were summoned to a back room outside the courtroom to discuss the matter.
When they emerged, Carpenter said he wanted to give prosecutors more time to consider their way forward and assess the feasibility of moving the trial to Kent County.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys declined to comment as they walked out of the courtroom. They are due back in court on Wednesday morning to discuss the progress of the case.
Contact Xerxes Wilson at (302) 324-2787 or [email protected] Follow @Ber_Xerxes on Twitter.
This article originally appeared in the Delaware News Journal: Delaware public bribery trial for auditor delayed due to venue debate