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Rhode Island’s Drunk Driving Laws R.I.G.L. § 31.27.2

Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) is a serious crime in Rhode Island.  Because of the thousands of deaths caused by the crime each year, prosecutors are mandated to be vigorous in their prosecutions of this crime.  The penalty and fines for a DUI in Rhode Island are quite severe, even for first time offenders.  Rhode Island’s DUI laws are quite complex and more technical than most crimes. You need an experienced attorney who will vigorously represent you if you are charged with DUI. Contact Peter Calo today for a free consultation.

Quite often, when someone is arrested for DUI R.I.G.L. § 31.27.2.  , the person refuses to submit to a chemical test.  Refusing to submit to a chemical test is a separate charge, in addition to DUI, called Refusal to Submit to Chemical Test R.I.G.L. §  The major difference between DUI and Refusal is that the DUI is a criminal charge and the Refusal is a civil violation if it is a first offense.

Therefore, if someone is charged with DUI and Refusal, that person will have to appear in two courts; District Court for the DUI and Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal (RITT) for the Refusal.  The burden of proof for each court is also very different.  For the criminal charge of DUI, the burden is on the prosecution to prove each and every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest burden of proof in our jurisprudence system.  For the civil violation of Refusal, however, the prosecutor has the burden of proving each and every element of the Refusal Charge by clear and convincing evidence, a lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt and therefore an easier task for the prosecution.  Keep in mind that a second or subsequent charge for Refusal within five years is a criminal offense, therefore the burden of proof changes to Beyond a Reasonable Doubt for such cases.

What to do when you are stopped for suspicion of DUI

First, because the burden is always on the prosecution to prove all elements of the crime, the less evidence the prosecutor has the more difficult it will be for him or her to prove the case. Therefore, say as little as possible and do as little as possible. Know that the police officer does have the right to ask you to step out of the vehicle and you must comply with that request. However, you do not have to do much more than that, even if the officer “orders” you. A police officer will be looking for objective signs of intoxication such as bloodshot and watery eyes, the smell of alcoholic beverage, slurred speech, dexterity problems, stumbling or otherwise unsteady on feet, etc. The officer’s observation of these indicia is crucial to a DUI case. That is why the less you say or do the better.

You do not have to take any tests, including the field sobriety test (SFST).  You may refuse to take the SFST, but do so politely.  All of your contact with the officer should be as polite as possible.  If you are arrested for DUI then you will be brought to the police station.  Once at the station, the officer will read you a long form that states what penalties you will face if you refuse to take the test.  When the officer is done reading that, you will have an opportunity to make a private call.  You should call an experienced attorney, such as Peter Calo, at that point.  After your phone call the officer will ask you to submit to a chemical test.  They cannot force you to do so; however, refusing to do so will result in the separate charge of Refusal in addition to the DUI charge.   If you take the test, the officer must comply with strict procedures when administering the test.  The majority of the time the police ask for a Breathalyzer test.  If someone is in an accident then the police will most likely ask for a blood sample.

In Rhode Island, a person is presumed to be unfit to operate a vehicle if the blood alcohol content is .08 or above.  A blood alcohol level of above .1 and .15 incurs increased penalties and fines, as does second and subsequent offenses.  However, even if a person’s blood alcohol level is below .08 that person can still be charged with DUI if they were not capable of operating a motor vehicle safely.

What are the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests?

The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) is a composition of three separate tests designed to test your attention, dexterity and balance.  The three tests include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN), Walk and Turn, and One Leg Stand.  A police officer will use the results of these tests in the determination of the level of intoxication.  These are the only three tests authorized by the National Highway and Safety Administration.  You do NOT have to take any of these tests.  It is not a crime or offense to refuse to take the SFST, however, refusing to submit to a chemical test is an offense under R.I.G.L. §  Remember, the less you say and do, the more difficult it is for the prosecution to prove its case.

Attorney Peter Calo has received extensive training on administering the SFST.  His background as a retired law enforcement officer provided him with training and extensive inside knowledge that is simply not available to other attorneys.  He has won many cases because he is able to dissect the procedures that officers use when administering the SFST.   Contact him today if you have been charged with a DUI!

To take the chemical test or not to take the chemical test?

This is a difficult question to answer and it is really up to the individual to decide what is best for him or her.  Consider the advantages and disadvantages to both:

Advantage of NOT Taking the Test

  • The prosecution will have to rely solely on the officer’s observations, known as an “observation case” which makes proving the DUI more difficult

Disadvantage of NOT Taking the Test

  • The person is charged with both the DUI and the Refusal.  Therefore, the person will have to contend with two different courts and have more court dates
  • Refusal license suspension begins at six months and up to one year (Much more than DUI)
  • Lower standard of clear and convincing evidence to prove the case

Advantage of Taking the Test

  • The person is only charged with DUI and not the second charge of Refusal.  Therefore, the person only has to go to one court and have less court dates
  • License suspension for a DUI is one to six months (much less than Refusal)

Disadvantage of Taking the Test

  • The prosecutor will have strong evidence of DUI other than the officer’s observations, which makes proving the DUI much easier

DUI and Refusal Penalties

  • DUI
    • DUI is a criminal charge
    • District Court
    • The city/town prosecute the crime
    • Must prove the case “beyond the reasonable doubt”
    • Fines and Penalty
      • $100 to $1000 fine, plus court costs
      • Ten to Sixty hours of Community Service
      • Imprisonment for up to one year if first or second offense within five years
      • Imprisonment for up to three years for third or subsequent offense within five years
      • One month to three years of license suspension
      • DUI treatment program
      • $500 highway assessment fee
      • Additional assessment fees that vary
      • Possible Ignition Interlock System Requirement
  • Refusal
    • Refusal is a Civil violation (not criminal)
    • Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal (RITT)
    • The State prosecutes the charge
    • Must prove by “clear and convincing evidence”
    • Only have to show that the officer had reasonable suspicion that you were driving under the influence
    • Fines and Penalty
      • $100 to $1000 fine, plus court costs
      • Ten to one-hundred hours of Community Service
      • No jail time possible
      • Six months to 12 Months of license suspension
      • DUI treatment program
      • $500 highway assessment fee
      • DOH assessment fee of $200
      • Criminal Offense if second or subsequent offense within five years
      • Possible Ignition Interlock Device Requirement

Ignition Interlock Device in
Rhode Island

In the 2014, Rhode Island changed it laws on ignition Interlock Device  R.I.G.L.§ 31-27-2.8 .  The interlock device requires a person to blow into the system prior to starting the vehicle.  The system will then detect if the person has alcohol in his or her system.  The presence of alcohol in the person’s system will prevent the vehicle from starting. 

Prior to the new law, the interlock device was discretionary for the judge for repeat offenders.  However, it is now mandatory for certain DUI and Refusal offenses and discretionary for certain DUI and Refusal offenses that were not included before the new law.  For example, it is a discretionary option for the judge at sentencing for first time DUI offenders with a blood alcohol level of below .15% or first time Refusal offenders.   However, it is a mandatory penalty for first time DUI offenders with higher blood alcohol levels, for repeat DUI offenders no matter what the level of blood alcohol is, and for repeat Refusal offenders.  The option of an interlock device also allows for a shorter license suspension period.  Further, a conditional hardship license may be issued in conjunction with the interlock device for those who qualify.  For these reasons, you need an experienced attorney like Peter Calo to advocate for you and your rights.

The new law also provides a separate misdemeanor offense for those who violate an ignition interlock order.  Violations include, but are not limited to, in any way attempting to circumvent the operation of an ignition interlock system that has been installed in the motor vehicle of a person under this section; operating a motor vehicle that is not equipped with an ignition interlock system; or soliciting or attempting to have another person start a motor vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock system for the purpose of providing an operable motor vehicle to a person who is subject to an ignition interlock order.  This includes those persons not subject to ignition interlock order, but who attempt to circumvent an ignition interlock order on someone else’s behalf.

Conditional Hardship Licenses

Rhode Island now allows for persons to drive even though their licenses may have been suspended due to a DUI or Refusal charge R.I.G.L.§ 31-27-2.8 .  This is called a Conditional Hardship License.  There are certain requirements that must be met to qualify for the conditional license.  A hearing is held to determine if the person qualifies for the conditional license, therefore you need an experienced attorney like Peter Calo to represent you if you are charged with DUI or Refusal.

The conditional license is only allowed for employment purposes or any other legitimate reason for justifying a hardship and is only valid for twelve (12) hours per day to get to and from employment or to perform other legitimate hardship.  Further, the conditional license will only be granted in conjunction with the installation of an ignition interlock device.

The Best way to beat a DUI Charge?


Should you be charged with DUI in Rhode Island, Contact Peter Calo today for a free consultation