Repeat DUI offenders plague state’s roadways

DOVER — It’s an often-repeated routine.

News of a repeat offender’s latest DUI arrest always offends public sensibilities.

While any case of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a danger to society, multiple offenders are spotlighted by police in news releases posted online, in media outlets and distributed through social media avenues.

For starters, a DUI arrest could get a driver at least an eight-hour stay in Dover Police Department holding cell. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

For starters, a DUI arrest could get a driver at least an eight-hour stay in Dover Police Department holding cell. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

State police said a news release comes when a DUI “reaches a felony level, when you have three convictions in a lifetime,” spokesman Sgt. Richard Bratz said.

Mostly online when responding to the posts, the public questions why the suspect is still on the road after being charged with felony drunken driving for the umpteenth time.

Since April 1, three fifth-DUI arrests have been made in Middletown, Newark and Elsmere, and another for the eighth time in Dover. In early January in Georgetown, a motorist was charged with a sixth alleged offense.

In March 2014, an arrest on a 12th DUI charge was made in Dagsboro; four months later in Hartly an alleged ninth DUI was detected.

Those are just the ones publicly announced; there may be more since many municipal police agencies in Delaware do not provide news releases to the public.

While touting significant legislation passed since 2011 to curb drunken driving, including targeting multiples, Gov. Jack Markell said even more must be done. When drinking, making a taxi-like call for pickup has shown success in other areas, he said, while pushing to find other options, as well.

“Looking beyond government efforts, there are services like Uber and Lyft which have been shown to support a reduction in DUI arrests in some markets,” he said. “We should continue to explore options such as these in order to further prevent the senseless tragedy that can occur as a result of drunk driving.”

The implications connected to those convicted of two or more DUIs who continue to drive are severe, officials said.

“Addressing the issue of repeat DUI offenders isn’t just a public safety issue, it’s a public health issue and we’ve taken important steps during this administration both to keep people safe on our streets and to connect repeat offenders with the services and supports they need,” Gov. Markell said.

“Those steps have focused heavily on strengthening enforcement, increasing educational outreach and providing necessary support services to repeat offenders, but there is still more we can do.”

First police contact

Be it multiple DUIs or first-time offenders, state and municipal police are tasked with handling the first step — a traffic stop and arrest — in Delaware’s response to impaired driving.

DUI  BY THE NUMBER Following are DUI arrest statistics from the Delaware Justice Information System, provided by the Office of Highway Safety. The statistics span Jan. 1, 2013, to April 15, 2015: Total DUI arrests: 10,312 First Time offenders: 6,309  Repeat offenders: 4,003 Arrests by county Kent County total arrests: 2,342  Kent County first timers: 1,301 Kent County repeaters: 1,041 New Castle County total arrests: 4,392 New Castle County first timers: 2,900 New Castle County repeaters: 1,492 Sussex County total arrests: 3,578 Sussex County first timers: 2,108 Sussex County Repeaters: 1,470                   OHS funds allocated for DUI enforcement Halloween, $38,200, Oct. 25, Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 Safe Family Holiday, $134,800, Nov. 26 to Jan. 1 St. Patrick’s, $8,700, March 14 Checkpoint Strikeforce, $235,000, July to December Labor Day, $211,600, Aug. 14 to Sept. 7

DUI BY THE NUMBERS
Following are DUI arrest statistics from the Delaware Justice Information System, provided by the Office of Highway Safety.
The statistics span Jan. 1, 2013, to April 15, 2015:
Total DUI arrests: 10,312
First Time offenders: 6,309
Repeat offenders: 4,003
Arrests by county
Kent County total arrests: 2,342
Kent County first timers: 1,301
Kent County repeaters: 1,041
New Castle County total arrests: 4,392
New Castle County first timers: 2,900
New Castle County repeaters: 1,492
Sussex County total arrests: 3,578
Sussex County first timers: 2,108
Sussex County Repeaters: 1,470
OHS funds allocated for DUI enforcement
Halloween, $38,200, Oct. 25, Oct. 31 to Nov. 2
Safe Family Holiday, $134,800, Nov. 26 to Jan. 1
St. Patrick’s, $8,700, March 14
Checkpoint Strikeforce, $235,000, July to December
Labor Day, $211,600, Aug. 14 to Sept. 7

While Smyrna police do not have statistics for multiple DUI offenders, spokesman Cpl. Brandon Dunning said,

“(Our) officers do often encounter repeat DUI offenders, sometimes individuals with multiple prior offenses …”

In the interest of public safety, Smyrna police officers focus on the task at hand when any DUI is involved and don’t evaluate the driver’s past offenses, Cpl. Dunning said.

“Our officers are mostly concerned about getting the person who is causing a hazard to themselves and others off the roadway and less focused on the number of prior offenses committed at the time of the arrest,” he said.

“Once an arrest is made we do begin to analyze ways to keep repeat offenders from getting behind the wheel, but most of those decisions are out of our span of control.”

Regardless of a driver’s history of driving drunk, Smyrna police said it takes an aggressive approach to identify and arrest all DUI offenders. All officers are trained to meet National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards for roadside impaired driving detection, Cpl. Dunning said, and several officers are trained and certified in Advance

Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement.

Every patrol shift involves monitoring for potential DUIs, Cpl. Dunning said, along with all other traffic-related violations addressed to boost the safety of anyone driving, biking or walking on the roadways.

“While enforcing the traffic laws officers continue to be vigilant with regards to motorists operating under the influence, he said.

Said the state police’s Sgt. Bratz regarding the approach to drunk driving issues, “We will enforce the traffic laws and vigorously administer our duty to arrest those who are driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol to keep our roads safe.”

Dover Police officers have not seen an uptick in multiple offender arrests, and are on the roads for all suspected of drinking and driving violations, spokesman Cpl. Mark Hoffman said.

“As far as repeat offenders are concerned, they pose the same dangers as a first-time offender,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

“When enforcing DUI violations, officers often are unaware of the repeat offender status until after a DUI arrest is made and they check the offenders history.”

With the stop of a multiple offender comes the potential for a tough time for police, authorities said.

“Sometimes, persons who are repeat offenders will give officers a more difficult time, such as refusing field sobriety tests, refusing the intoxilyzer, etc,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

History, prison stays

In a few minutes, officers can search a criminal history database to determine if a driver has had prior DUI arrests and/or convictions.

Most times, investigation begins with a moving violation such as speeding, failure to maintain a lane, striking a curb, etc., Cpl. Hoffman said. The drivers are often heading from a variety of places after drinking and taking the wheel, Cpl. Hoffman said.

“It varies, we see everything from restaurants to bars to house parties and barbecues,” he said.
Also, Smyrna Police and other agencies are awarded Delaware Office of Highway Safety Grants to specifically target DUI enforcement.

If a repeat offender’s case leads to another conviction and prison stay, the Delaware Department of Correction conducts an assessment to determine where they will stay, and how their treatment for addiction is handled.

“Generally speaking, offenders convicted of multiple DUI offenses present a greater danger to themselves than to others when they are not intoxicated or get behind the wheel of an automobile while intoxicated,” Corrections spokesman Jason Miller said.

“Therefore, generally speaking, these inmates are not commonly classified as high security risks within our prison facilities, and treatment for their addiction therefore becomes a primary concern for the DOC.”

For pre-trial detainees involved with DUI issues and held in prison in lieu of bail, DOC conducts a security/threat assessment that factors in nature of the pending charge, amount of bail, and any previous institutional stays, Mr. Miller said. With that assessment, housing assignments are made.

If incarcerated on a DUI conviction, offenders may be placed in the Reflections program, a residential alcohol treatment program located at Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown and Delores J. Baylor Women’s Correctional Center in New Castle.

Legislature in action

State Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington South, is hyper-aware of dangerous roadways and the drunken drivers that travel on them.

Planning a return trip from the West Coast, the Delaware legislator chose to take a red-eye flight so she could then drive home on Saturday at 8 a.m. instead of during the very early morning hours before. She noted the phrase

“Nothing good ever happens after midnight” when discussing her scheduling for safety,

Within just over the past year, Rep. Keeley and Delaware legislators have created two additions to Delaware Code, including an act to mandate that all convicted of DUI must install an ignition interlock device in the vehicle he or she drives.

Senate Bill 260 — signed into law by Gov. Markell on July 31, 2014 — created a Driving Under the Influence Program lasting nine months and geared to help those with serious alcohol problems.

While the bill sponsored by Sen. Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, revolves around evidence-based alcohol and/or substance abuse treatment, it also includes strict supervision, transdermal patches, and opportunity to gain an Ignition Interlock License while involved. Upon completion of the program, the participating offender can seek reinstatement of his or her license.

The act came with incentive to get treatment quickly — a 60-day Department of Correction prison stay can be imposed with a late reporting date.

Rep. Keeley, was a co-sponsor of that bill and took the lead as primary sponsor of House Bill 212 requiring all convicted DUI offenders to install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID). The synopsis of the bill — enacted Aug. 6, 2014 — referenced 34 deaths in Delaware related to DUI in 2012, along with 10,000 nationwide.

The bill was designed to cut down on repeat offenders and require first-time offenders to drive with an IID for at least four months. First-timers engaged in the First Offender’s Program, and had a blood-alcohol concentration of below .15 at arrest, are immediately eligible for an IIL upon installation of the interlock device,

In 2011, Rep. Keeley and Sen. Blevins were the main sponsors of House Bill 168 that began increasing the penalties for a second DUI and beyond; that act was signed into law on Aug. 3, 2011, and made a third-offense DUI a felony and eligible for more prison time.

Also included in HB 168 was a treatment component requiring participation in an intensive program, the synopsis of the legislation read.

Rep. Keeley said the three-part legislation targeted multiple offenders first due to the severity of their issues from a safety and health perspective.

“Alcoholism is a disease, and someone sentenced to a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh DUI has a serious problem, a serious illness,” Rep. Keeley said,

Insurance difficulties

While a first DUI can bring canceled automobile insurance, it more likely will increase a customer’s premium.

And it gets worse from there with each conviction.

“More than one DUI greatly increases the potential for cancellation as well previous driving history and convictions,” State Farm Insurance spokesman Dave Phillips said.

“The more DUIs, the likelihood of cancellation.”

While multiple DUIs tend to result in cancellation, Mr. Phillips said others can bring “significant rate increases or assignment to high risk insurance pools with higher premiums.”

Alcohol is a major factor in traffic accidents, said Mr. Phillips; he said the Delaware’s Office of Highway reported 125 traffic-related fatalities in the First State in 2014, compared to 101 the year before, he said.

“DUI is a serious offense,” Mr. Phillips said when asked to compare the number of DUI cancellations due to other reasons.

Insurers aren’t always contacted when a DUI occurs, Mr. Phillips said.

“Unless an insurer is made aware, it may not show until annual renewal months later from the DUI conviction,” Mr. Phillips said. “Still, the license may have been suspended during that time.

“If they are and have an accident, there is likely no coverage and driver faces further violations and potential criminal charges.

“That information is obtained through (a) Motor Vehicle Record by the insurance company.”

When applying for insurance, those with a record of DUIs should be forthcoming, State Farm said.

“The information should be shared with prospective insurer even if not asked,” Mr. Phillips said.

“It is likely the insurer will conduct a motor vehicle record review before writing the policy.

Because the prospective customer did not reveal on new underwriting review, coverage may be denied for lying on application by not disclosing the DUI.”

Not reporting any DUIs when applying brings cancellation when detected, Mr. Phillips said.

“It’s misrepresentation of material facts,” he said. “The policy and coverage would be rescinded.

“In others words, no coverage bound from date of application until discovery of misrepresentation. If accident occurs during that discovery period, the insurer may not be obligated to policy.”

Notification of DUI charges to the Division of Motor Vehicles comes from the courts, beginning with an alleged first offense, officials said.

Initially, many are not aware of DMV issues until charged with the offense, If a conviction ensues, the DMV notifies the person and provides the guidelines for remaining compliant with requirements.

To regain a revoked license, the process is the same no matter how many DUIs are involved, spokesman Mike Williams said.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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