Breathalyzer Refusal Laws
Rhode Island, like many states, is a jurisdiction of implied consent. Implied consent means that a licensed driver automatically agrees to consent to a drunk driving test any time that law enforcement asks. By law, a driver may still refuse to consent to a Breathalyzer test. Immediately upon refusal, the driver will be charged with refusal to submit. This charge is automatic and is not subject to the discretion of the arresting officer.
In most cases, the driver will not be charged with a DUI without the proof of a Breathalyzer, although this charge is left up to the discretion of the arresting officer.
Breathalyzer refusal is a civil offense if it is a first time offense. The case will be handled separately from the DUI charge (assuming that one is given) at the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal. A first time DUI is labeled a misdemeanor by the state and is administered through the Rhode Island District Court system.
It is very difficult to win a Breathalyzer refusal case. The burden of proof is very low for the state. All they must prove is 1. probably cause for the arrest, 2. reasonable suspicion that you were intoxicated while operating an automobile within the jurisdiction of Rhode Island, 3. that your rights were read to you, and 4. you did actually refuse the Breathalyzer. Because the case is held completely separate from any DUI charge, you can still be convicted for Breathalyzer refusal even if you did not drink one drop.
Should you go through the Breathalyzer refusal process, you will lose your license at the arraignment hearing. In most cases, you will need a very experienced lawyer to get it back before the end of the case.
If you lose the Breathalyzer case, penalties are relatively severe. A first offense requires at least six months loss of license. You can lose your license for up to one year, and you may be responsible for fines, community service and driver retraining classes as well. Your car insurance costs will also go up. The one advantage of taking a Breathalyzer refusal for a first offense is that you avoid a criminal conviction.
A second Breathalyzer refusal offense does not offer this advantage – it is a criminal conviction.
In order to decide whether to refuse a Breathalyzer test or take a DUI charge, you should weigh the disadvantage of losing a license versus having a criminal conviction on your record. It is also recommended never to take a Breathalyzer if there is an injury in a car accident – the penalties for this kind of a conviction are usually much higher than a normal DUI case.