New laws toughen penalties on repeat DUI offenders and criminally negligent drivers
Newport – Attorney General Beau Biden joined Governor Jack Markell today as the Governor signed into law two pieces of legislation drafted by the Attorney General’s Office that will take dangerous drivers off the roads. HB 168 enhances prison sentences for those who receive multiple DUI convictions and provides for 24-hour monitoring and intensive counseling for repeat drunk drivers. “A car becomes a deadly weapon when an impaired driver gets behind the wheel, and taking those drivers off the street is our top priority,” said Biden. “But arresting habitual DUI offenders over and over again clearly does not address the underlying problem. The new law will help offenders stay sober and stop driving impaired, and most importantly, keep innocent Delawareans safe. I’d like to thank Governor Markell, Senator Patricia Blevins and Representative Helene Keeley for their advocacy and hard work ensuring these bills become law.”
HB 168 is not only aimed at getting impaired drivers off the street, but also provides offenders with the tools they need to stay sober. In order to reduce recidivism, the law enhances minimum penalties for habitual drunk drivers and also integrates monitoring requirements and a serious treatment component to address underlying addiction issues. Minimum prison sentences may be reduced if offenders comply with monitoring and treatment requirements, which include a 90-day period of sobriety after their release from prison as a condition of probation. In order to ensure compliance, offenders will be required to wear ankle bracelets.
“Many of us have seen in the press reports of people being arrested for their fifth, sixth and even seventh DUI. In fact, since we passed these bills in June, at least two people have been arrested in Delaware for their sixth DUI,” said Rep. Keeley, D-Wilmington South. “These repeat offenders are putting thousands of innocent people on the roads at risk and are a danger to society. Strengthening the penalties and requiring more intensive treatment and monitoring will help save lives by keeping dangerous drivers off the road, and hopefully these drivers will get the help they need to not drive drunk again.”
HB 168 was developed by the Attorney General’s Office in consultation with state agencies, legislators, and other stakeholders. It was supported by Governor Markell, Col. Robert Coupe of the Delaware State Police, Newport Police Chief and President of the Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council Michael Capriglione, and other leaders of Delaware law enforcement. The legislation is also backed by the National Partnership on Alcohol Misuse and Crime (NPAMC) and the Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc. (IBH).
“With the passage of this legislation, Delaware’s DUI statute addresses the unique issues posed by repeat offenders. When they’re held accountable for their actions by swift, certain, and meaningful sanctions and given opportunities to obtain treatment, people change their behaviors for the long term. This enhanced sentencing structure will go a long way toward increasing public safety by reducing recidivism,” said Stephen K. Talpins, Chairman and CEO of NPAMC, a public-private partnership established to work on the issue of alcohol misuse and crime and the way in which the U.S. justice system manages offenders who abuse alcohol. NPAMC is comprised of 50 participating organizations and their representatives, including justice professionals, scientists and researchers, victims groups, treatment professionals and private industry.
“The abstinence and monitoring requirements of Delaware’s DUI statute are important changes to how DUI offenders are managed. They will significantly improve the state’s public health and public safety,” said Robert DuPont, M.D., President of IBH, a non-profit organization established in 1978 to identify, develop, evaluate and promote new strategies to reduce the use of illegal drugs. Dr. DuPont was also the first Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and was the second White House Drug Chief, serving under Presidents Nixon and Ford.
Also signed into law today, HB 174 enhances maximum penalties for vehicular assault and homicide in order to more accurately reflect the damage done by drivers who cause death or injury to others. To provide courts greater flexibility when sentencing offenders who cause death or injury on Delaware roads, HB 174 enhances maximum penalties for certain vehicular homicide and assault offenses, standardizes penalties for crimes with identical elements, and creates the crime of Vehicular Assault in the 3rd Degree, a class B misdemeanor. The mandatory minimums for these offenses remain the same.
“Creating a new criminal offense is something we don’t do lightly,” said Sen. Blevins, DElsmere, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “But this new law recognizes the need to deal with people who, through criminal negligence, turn their cars into weapons and hurt people. It also brings other sections of the law into alignment and, most importantly, gives our judges the ability to develop sentences that fit the crimes.”
In addition to the legislation signed into law today, Attorney General Biden has taken several recent steps to stem the tide of impaired drivers in Delaware. In June, the Attorney General swore-in 98 officers from police agencies up and down the state to Checkpoint Strikeforce, a statewide campaign coordinated by the Delaware Office of Highway Safety that conducts weekly sobriety checkpoints between the 4th of July holiday weekend and New Year’s Eve. The program is in its 10th year and netted 528 DUI arrests in 2010 alone.