Specialized DUI court needed in Sussex, DOJ says

DOVER — Felony DUI arrests statewide are headed towards a four-year high.

That’s motorists charged with at least their third drunken driving offense, perhaps more.
There were an average of 612 cases from 2016-18 and the pace for 2019 is 682.

While DUI cases in Kent and New Castle counties dropped by more than half in the past 10 years, southern Delaware hasn’t followed suit.
According to Delaware Department of Justice spokesman Carl Kanefsky, DUI arrests in Sussex County “are disproportionately and unacceptably high …”

While Sussex County has about 40 percent the population that New Castle does, it was the scene of more arrests in 2017-18. More than 84 percent of DUI dismissals came in Sussex County Court of Common Pleas.

Sussex DUI arrests do not vary greatly from month to month throughout the year, according to the DOJ.
The DOJ believes a specialized DUI court is needed in Sussex, and supports potential funding and resources to establish it.
“Our recent efforts have been focused on Sussex DUIs, where we have heard concern about both first-time and repeat offenders,” Mr. Kanefsky said.

Delaware’s Supreme Court recently cited the substantial increases in Sussex County the past several years, noting a lack of case reviews and relatively longer time taken to resolve matters.

‘Merits of cases’
Speaking generally, Deputy Attorney General Barzi Axelrod — who coordinates traffic prosecutions, including DUIs, statewide — said, “Anything we can do to be able to focus prosecution on the merits of cases and handle all fairly as they progress through the legal system is a good thing.”
According to the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, 3,053 DUI arrests were made statewide this year from Jan. 1 to Sept. 25.

“Specific to impaired driving, we look at trends in impaired driving crashes and fatalities on a year-by-year basis,” OHS spokeswoman Cynthia Cavett said.
“Nationally, and in Delaware, DUI crash statistics show a downward trend from 1990 to the present. However, drug impaired crashes are on the upswing. Countermeasures include saturation patrols, DUI checkpoints, coordinated enforcement by multiple Law Enforcement agencies and heavy paid and earned media coverage during our enforcement periods.”

In 2012, legislation enhanced punitive and rehabilitative components to DUI laws. Minimum and maximum penalties increased, with each DUI conviction bringing stiffer consequences.

Also in play are more treatment options, which the Delaware Department of Correction’s Reflection Driving With Care program covers.
“You try to balance public safety with the need for a rehabilitation component involving someone who needs help,” Mr. Axelrod said.
“At the same time there’s also the realization that it’s not your first time and that you have to be held accountable for a behavior that’s just not acceptable.”

Attorney General Kathy Jennings and her office believe that dropping rates in New Castle and Kent “shows that the current combination of efforts — including public education and awareness, enforcement by police agencies around the state, prosecution by our office, and appropriate court treatment — is effective,” Mr. Kanefsky said.

Also, Mr. Axelrod said, “You try to balance public safety with the need for a rehabilitation component involving someone who needs help.
“At the same time there’s also the realization that it’s not your first time and that you have to be held accountable for a behavior that’s just not acceptable.”

Felony per day
From 2014 to 2018, Delaware State Police made an average of just over one felony DUI arrest every 24 hours — 1,876 cases in 1,825 days. There were 318 arrests in the first 288 days of 2019.

“Driving under the influence continues to remain a priority for the Delaware State Police in order to maintain the safety of our roadways for our citizens and visitors,” spokeswoman Master Cpl. Melissa Jaffe said.
“In addition to our troopers who are on patrol everyday on the roadways enforcing our traffic laws, the Delaware State Police continues to participate in all of the Office of Highway Safety funded DUI enforcements and checkpoints throughout the year.

“We also have a number of our troopers who have received advanced training to include Drug Recognition Experts and Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement.”

Beginning at 10 p.m. Saturday OHS will set up a checkpoint in each county for four hours. Also, state and local law enforcement will conduct DUI patrols from Nov. 1 to Nov. 18 through OHS funding.

The day before Thanksgiving, OHS will begin its Safe Family Holiday Campaign with checkpoints scheduled in all three counties.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving spokesman Frank Harris, “With felony laws, the trick there is whether prosecutors are carrying out the law.”

When it comes to repeat offenders, Mr. Harris describes the cases as showing “a failure in the justice system and rehabilitation efforts.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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