DUI Laws in Rhode Island

In this article, we look into DUI laws in Rhode Island and the penalties you might face if you’re caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Have you recently been pulled over and charged with a DUI or DWI? This article explains the laws, penalties, and general legal procedures for DUI in Rhode Island.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

DUI vs. DWI

When a person receives a DUI, it means they were “driving under the influence” of drugs or alcohol. When a person receives a DWI, it means they were “driving while intoxicated”. [1] Both terms are used when a person is driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of over the legal limit. Across the nation, this limit is 0.08% if you are 21 years of age or older.

In the state of Rhode Island, there isn’t any difference between a a DUI or DWI. Both terms refer to driving under the influence of either alcohol or drugs.

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It should be noted that there are certain rules within the Ocean State that apply to a DUI. For example, if you’re driving a commercial vehicle, you’re not allowed to have more than 0.04% alcohol in your system. If you’re under the age of 21, the limit is 0.02%.

Specific Law

DUI and DWI are outlined under the General Laws of Rhode Island § 31-27-2, Driving under influence of liquor or drugs. [2] This law outlines the penalties, consequences, and court procedures for DUI in Rhode Island. It also outlines the blood concentration of drugs and alcohol and the methods by which police test for them. Following is a brief look at these levels.

For alcohol: Alcohol must reach a blood alcohol concentration or .08% or more and is evidenced by a chemical analysis of blood, breath, or urine sample.

For drugs: The psychoactive drug must be listed as a scheduled controlled substance and is evidenced as shown by analysis of a blood or urine sample.

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But Rhode Island is all about personal rights.

The request to submit to a chemical test must be based on “reasonable grounds” to believe a person was driving while under the influence. Further, this laws states that a person arrested and charged with DUI has the right to be examined at his or her own expense immediately after arrest by a physician selected by the person. Further, the police officer must inform the person of this right and afford the person a reasonable opportunity to exercise the right, and at the trial of the person the prosecution must prove that he or she was so informed and was afforded that opportunity.

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Sobriety Checkpoints

DWI checkpoints are roadblocks set up by law enforcement agencies on selected roads and
highways to stop people suspected of driving while intoxicated. Much like a roadblock, a sobriety checkpoint allows police to stop vehicles and check for driver safety at locations and times known for partying. If the driver appears intoxicated, police ask the driver to exit the vehicle and perform field sobriety tests. A breathalyzer test can also be performed. If the driver is deemed intoxicated, appropriate detention will follow.

Sobriety checkpoints are banned by judicial ruling in Rhode Island. In fact, The Rhode Island Supreme Court has ruled that sobriety checkpoints are unconstitutional. [3]

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However, this may soon change. In the 2017 Governor’s report on Highway Safety in the state, money has been ear marked for judicial education sessions. Money will soon be spent on a multimedia presentation on the effectiveness of Standardized Field Sobriety Testing and the Drug Transportation Recognition Expert Program. The current governor notes how these programs are excellent at identifying both alcohol and drug impaired drivers and use a good amount of science.

There has been much debate over whether such roadblocks constitute illegal search and
Seizure. But in 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that if sobriety checkpoints comply with federal
requirements, they do not violate any constitutional amendments and are considered legal. Also, the Supreme Court found that the need to reduce alcohol-related accidents more
than justified the minimal intrusion. [4]

Still, many states have established their own guidelines to comply with federal rules. Some allow sobriety checkpoints under certain circumstances, such as:

1. Providing public notice on the location of checkpoints.
2. Providing reasons why particular locations are selected.

Legal Process

Most DUIs in Rhode Island seem to be misdemeanors. These are tried in district court for persons eighteen or older and in family court for persons under the age of eighteen. The courts shall have full authority to impose any sentence authorized and to order the suspension of any license for violations of this section. All trials are scheduled within thirty days of the arraignment date.

So, when you receive a DUI charge in RI, you’ll also receive a court date where you’ll have the opportunity to defend yourself. However, you should expect actions to be taken against you. These actions include, but aren’t limited to:

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  • Completion of DUI school.
  • Delay in driver’s license.
  • Fines.
  • Jail time.

It’s important to understand that any court conviction will be placed on your record. Through this, the court will be notified again if you were to receive a conviction in the future. The purpose is to worsen penalties for individuals who continuously break the law.

Misdemeanor or Felony?

You can expect to receive a misdemeanor upon your first or second DUI offense in the state of Rhode Island. When you hit your third offense, the conviction becomes a felony and penalties worsen. [2] There are certain circumstances where a first or second DUI offense can get you a felony. The following are examples of such:

  • Causing serious bodily injury to another driver.
  • Causing death to another driver.
  • Driving with a minor in the car.
  • Driving with a suspended license.

Furthermore, if you’re driving under the influence of an illicit drug, you risk having possession charges being taken against you. Depending on the drug and the amount you hold, these can have serious repercussions as Rhode Island supports a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drugs.

1st DUI

Upon receiving your first DUI offense, you can expect to receive a misdemeanor and the following penalties:

  • 10 to 60 hours of community services.
  • Fines of up to $800.
  • Jail time of up to 1 year.
  • License suspension of anywhere between 3 to 12 months.
  • Mandatory attendance at driving schools.

It should be noted, these penalties will differ for those under the age of 21. [5] Furthermore, your situation determines how these penalties will play out. For example, if you’re driving under the influence with a passenger aged 13 or under, you might face more serious repercussions.

2nd DUI

Upon receiving your second DUI offense in Rhode Island, you can expect to receive a misdemeanor and the following penalties:

  • Fines of up to $1,500.
  • Jail time between 10 days and up to 1 year.
  • License suspension of up to 2 years.
  • Mandatory drug treatment.
  • Potential community service.

3rd DUI

Upon receiving your third DUI offense in Rhode Island, you can expect to receive a felony and the following penalties:

  • Fines of up to $5,000.
  • Jail time between 3 to 5 years.
  • License suspension for up to 3 years.
  • Mandatory drug treatment.
  • Potential community service.

Jail Time

Is jail time possible for a DUI charge in Rhode Island?

Yes!

As the above information explains, even a first-time offender has the potential of receiving jail time. The more offenses one makes, or the more serious an offense is, the more jail time they risk. The most jail time people receive for a DUI in the state of Rhode Island is when their accident results in the death of another individual. This can earn the perpetrator up to 15 years, even if it’s their first DUI violation.

Other factors that contribute to one going to jail for a DUI are:

  • If someone is hurt due to your DUI.
  • You drove with a passenger of the age of 13 or younger.
  • You refused a sobriety checkpoint testing.
  • You entered a plea bargain.
  • Your BAC was above 0.15%.

If you’re looking to get a better sense of your jail time risks, it’s important to talk to a law professional. The fact is your risk has a lot to do with the circumstances of your DUI situation. Only a lawyer or other professional will be able to review and understand exactly what YOU face.

Classes and DUI School

In Rhode Island, you’ll be required to take DUI classes after receiving both your first or second DUI offense. [6] In DUI classes, you’ll be educated on a variety of topics including:

  • How to drive safely
  • The dangers of drinking and driving
  • The consequences of alcohol addiction

You are required to register on your own for the state’s Alcohol Education Program. So, if you have been ordered to complete an Alcohol Education Program you must register for the program at the Driver Retraining Office. The Driver Retraining Office is located inside the Adjudication Office of the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles: 600 New London Avenue, Cranston, RI 02920.

The cost of this program depends on how many hours you’re required to attend. In order to get your hours, you must be assigned them by a judge in a court of law. The cost of ONLY the state’s Alcohol Education Program is $350.00. More classes may be added, raising the price.

When you’re ready to begin, the Alcohol Education Program is held at the Community College of Rhode Island, CCRI. Before entering these classes, you’ll receive an alcohol assessment. The purpose of this is to determine whether or not you need alcohol addiction treatment before receiving your education. Upon registration, you will have your choice of which CCRI campus is most convenient for you. CCRI will notify you when your program begins. If you have not been contacted within six weeks of registration, you can contact CCRI at (401) 825-2401.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for a first-time drunk driving offense in Rhode Island is 5 years. This means prosecutors assigned to your charges have 5 years to make prosecutions or you’ll be granted no penalties in terms of your DUI. The purpose of this is so eyewitness memory doesn’t weaken and evidence doesn’t deteriorate.

It should be noted that if you’re facing a felony, then your statute of limitations will DIFFER from that of a misdemeanor. Furthermore, even if the state of Rhode Island doesn’t prosecute you, that doesn’t mean your DUI is erased from your record. In fact, the DUI will be on your record for a minimum of 5 years since you received your DUI.

Expungement

You will have the opportunity to expunge a DUI off your record in Rhode Island ONLY after 5 years since you first received your DUI. Furthermore, you cannot be convicted of any more crimes in the time between your DUI and when you want to expunge in order to be eligible.

Most people who receive a first-time DUI offense will expunge their records to have the conviction deleted from the public record. However, just because you expunge a DUI, doesn’t mean a court of law won’t have access to it if you are charged with a DUI again in the future.

DUI Lawyer Costs

A DUI lawyer can be very expensive. People will hire a DUI lawyer when they’re seeking to minimize the consequences of charges caused by their DUI convictions. A good lawyer will have the ability to plea for a reduced fine, license suspension, and even jail sentences. Before you hire a lawyer, it’s important to contact multiple and see how much success they’ve had in cases similar to yours.

Still, not everyone is going to need a DUI lawyer. Some people will save more money by facing the penalties of their DUI rather than hiring someone to fight them. As mentioned, a lawyer is expensive and, more often than not, people only seek them out when they’re facing serious repercussions.

The cost of a lawyer fluctuates depending on how long you need him/her and the amount of experience he/she has. There’s no definitive price, but you can expect to pay around $2,500 for an average lawyer and upwards of $6,000 for an experienced. This might seem reasonable at first, but you must take into account the other costs of a DUI. [7] Some other possible costs include:

  • Bail at $1,000
  • DUI Classes at $350
  • Fines at $1,000
  • Ignition Interlock Device at $100
  • Towing fees at $150 a day or $750 for 5 days

As you can see, if this is your first DUI offense and you simply were caught driving with a BAC of over 0.08%, you may want to simply accept the penalties.

Is Rehab an Option?

Yes, rehab is always an option when you get a DUI in Rhode Island. Even if you have to face penalties for your DUI, it’s in your best interest to come clean. Drug and alcohol treatment can be the great change you have been waiting for.

Some people might also benefit from “drug courts”. These are specialized courts that favor rehabilitation to punishment. The state of Rhode Island has been operating drug courts for over a decade. [8] The state has an interest in helping you not break the law again in the future. Therefore, a drug court orders drug treatment rather than jail time.

However, it should be noted that not everyone will be allowed to go through a drug court. If you’re charged with a felony, you’re automatically excluded from this possibility.

Your Questions

If you have any further questions pertaining to DUI laws in the state of Rhode Island, we invite you to ask them below. If you have any further information on Rhode Island DUI laws, we’d also love to hear from you. We try to reply to each comment in a prompt and personal manner.

References: [1] NHTSA: Drunk Driving
[2] Rhode Island TITLE 31 Motor and Other Vehicles, CHAPTER 31-27, Motor Vehicle Offenses, SECTION 31-27-2
[3] NHTSA: State of Rhode Island Highway Safety Plan, Federal Fiscal Year 2018
[4] WSDOT: Sobriety Checkpoints: Synthesis of Issues
[5] DMV: Rhode Island DUI & DWI Laws
[6] State of Rhode Island, Division of Motor Vehicles: Alcohol Education
[7] D. Griffin Law: Cost of a DUI
[8] State of Rhode Island: Judiciary Drug Courts for Adults
CDC: Sober Facts: Drunk Driving in Rhode Island
EMS.gov: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws Dealing With Driving Under the Influence of Drugs
State of Rhode Island: Adjudication Office, Alcohol Education
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.

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