Delaware enacts DUI reforms including stiffer penalties and more treatment alternatives

Tougher penalties and avenues for treatment are part of a package of DUI laws enacted by Delaware Governor Jack Markell. 

Markell, state legislators and law enforcement officials stood in front of the wreckage of a car involved in a fatal DUI accident for the bill-signing at the Minquas Fire Company in Newport.

“These bills accomplish several things,” Markell said.  “They increase the penalties for repeat offenders.  They provide more substance abuse treatment for people who need it.  They provide better and more efficient use of our limited resources.  And, above all, they make our roads safer.”

One law targets repeat offenders in particular, those who have been arrested multiple times for driving under the influence.  Anyone found guilty of a second DUI offense within a ten-year period would be subject to enhanced penalties of up to 60 days in jail.  A third offense could result in a three-month term, and a fourth conviction could lead to six months behind bars, with further stepwise increases.  The court may suspend up to half of the minimum sentence for offenders while requiring the offender to take part in an intensive treatment program.  Requirements would include abstinence from alcohol for at least 90 days and the wearing of a monitoring device that can detect alcohol use.

“Yes, we can lock people up and throw away the key.  But, unless we cure and start to have a conversation with the individuals about the root cause of why they’re getting behind the wheel, it doesn’t solve anything”, said State Representative Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington), the prime sponsor of the bill in the House.

“We believe mandatory treatment works, and it’s been proven that mandatory treatment works,” added State Senator Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere), the other chief sponsor.

A second new law in Delaware establishes the crime of third-degree vehicular assault, which covers cases where someone driving with criminal negligence causes injury to another person.  It also carries stronger criminal penalties for crimes including second-degree vehicular assault, second-and first-degree vehicular homicide, and criminally negligent homicide.

Attorney General Beau Biden said 38 percent of Delaware’s 103 highway fatalities in 2010 were alcohol related.  Biden also recognized the importance of a treatment option for those who want to help themselves.  He also added the state will get tougher on repeat offenders and “put them behind bars when they decide to get behind the wheel of what becomes a lethal weapon on the streets of our state.”

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