Delaware DUI Laws

Delaware DUI Laws

by Corie Lynn Rosen, December 2009

Though Delaware is one of the smallest states in the country, its DUI laws are no softer than those of the most populous and expansive American states. It is worth noting that the Delaware Office of Highway Safety has alerted the public to its desire to come down heavily on people who violate the Delaware laws that prohibit driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. In addition to rigorous legal standards, Delaware, and indeed much of New England, uses a series of state-enforced checkpoints in order to better enforce DUI laws and to catch and punish DUI offenders.

Like many other states, Delaware law prosecutes DUIs under two possible theories. One theory is that it is illegal to drive while impaired by substances. The other theory is that it is a per se violation of the law if you have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or more.

While the per se violation is fairly self-explanatory, as the per se standard relies only on proof of body chemistry as determined by chemical tests, the illegality of driving while impaired by substances is somewhat more opaque. The law in Delaware allows the state to use evidence of field sobriety tests, physical appearance, driving patterns, and chemical test results in order to establish impairment or influence of drugs or alcohol. The state need not provide chemical test results to prove intoxication, however. Mere erratic behavior, unsatisfactory appearance or field sobriety test performance will suffice to prove influence or intoxication. Impairment is the key thing at issue under Delaware law, so if a police officer determines that a driver's abilities are impaired, he or she will likely be charged with DUI.

Remember, although impairment is the key focus of the illegality inquiry, the per se violator of the Delaware law need not appear impaired so long as his blood alcohol level meets or exceeds .08 percent.

In addition to the state's prosecution and possible sentencing, a person arrested for a DUI in Delaware will also have to face the Delaware Department of Motor Vehicles, who will automatically suspend an arrested driver's license unless a hearing is requested immediately. Even after the DMV hearing, a first time offender who submits to chemical testing at the time of his arrest will see his or her license revoked for three months on the first offense and for a full year for the second offense. An offender who refuses the chemical test will have his or her license revoked for one year at the first offense and 18 months at the time of the second offense. Also, a DUI offender in Delaware is required to take an educational course before his or license can be reinstated.

Of course, for persons under the age of 21, the Delaware law is far harsher. Anyone caught with alcohol under the age of 21, behind the wheel of a car or otherwise, will loose his or her license for between one and six months. Unlicensed drivers who are under 21 and caught with alcohol will be fined. Additionally, for those underage caught driving a car under the influence, the per se BAC level is .01 percent.

For persons over the age of 21 who are charged with DUI, the first offense carries with it a fine of up to $1,500 and/or imprisonment of up to six months. In addition to this punishment, the offender will have to pay the cost of the DUI educational course, increasing the financial aspect of the punishment.

A second offense is any offense occurring within five years of the initial infraction. Such second offenses carry with them 60 days to 18 months of jail time and fines between $600 and $2,300. Second time offenders are also required to again pay for and participate in the DUI educational course.