By the time the dinner check hits the table or the bar tab is closed, many of us are guilty of having a few too many. As local law enforcement increase their patrols in an effort to curb drunk driving, it is important to know the ramifications of refusing a breathalyzer.

In Rhode Island, when a driver does not submit to a breathalyzer, they will automatically be charged with a refusal because of a concept called implied consent. When Rhode Islanders obtain their license, they automatically agree that they will consent to a chemical test if asked to submit to one by police. If a driver declines to “blow” they are charged both with a DUI and a refusal. A first time refusal is a civil charge, handled at the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal, while a DUI is a misdemeanor handled at the District Court level.

Whether a driver is willing to accept a DUI or refusal charge rests largely with their priorities. Some drivers are concerned about having a criminal conviction on their record while others are most concerned about losing their license and the fines associated with the charges. If you need help with your DUI charge, contact Abilheira Law – providing DUI legal services in Providence.

Criminal Conviction

A plea or finding of guilt after a trial on a refusal charge will NOT result in a criminal conviction. Instead, a refusal is a civil infraction and will appear only on one’s driving record.

On the other hand, a plea or finding of guilt for a DUI is a criminal conviction and will be on one’s criminal record for life, unless they meet all of the requirements for an expungement.

Loss of License

By refusing to submit to a chemical test, your license will be automatically suspended at the time of your arraignment (first court appearance) in the Traffic Tribunal.

However, if you submit to a chemical test and are only charged with a DUI, your license will not be suspended until the end of the case when you are either found guilty or enter a plea.

The penalties imposed after a plea or finding of guilt also differ for refusals and DUIs:

  • For a first offense refusal charge, the loss of license is 6 months to 1 year.
    • Typically, the prosecutor will agree to minimum sanctions (6 months) if there are no extenuating circumstances, like an accident.
  • For a first offense DUI BAC unknown, the loss of license is 3 months to 1 year.
    • Typically, the prosecutor will agree to minimum sanctions (3 months) if there are no extenuating circumstances, like an accident.
  • For a first offense DUI with chemical test readings (when you did not refuse the breathalyzer), the loss of license is based on the BAC.
    • For a BAC of .08 to .1 the loss of license is 30 days up to 6 months.
    • For a BAC of .1 to .15 the loss of license is 3 months to 12 months.
    • For a BAC of more than .15 the loss of license is 3 months to 18 months.

As you can see, the loss of license for a refusal charge is generally longer than the loss of license for a DUI charge. This is a policy based consideration for those willing to accept responsibility for driving under the influence. In contrast, those who wish to avoid a criminal conviction will suffer a longer loss of license.

Fines and Fees

Rhode Island judges are required by law to impose certain fines and fees for both DUI and refusal charges.

For a first offense DUI BAC unknown, one will be required to pay at least $780.50 andup to $980.50 in fines and fees. This includes:

  • A minimum fine of $100 (up to $300)
  • A Highway Safety Assessment fee of $500
  • A DUI fee of $86
  • Misdemeanor court costs of $93.50
  • A motor vehicle violation fee of $1.00

For a first offense refusal, one will be required to pay at least $935.00 and up to $1,235.00 in fines and fees. This includes:

  • A minimum fine of $200 (up to $500)
  • A Highway Safety Assessment fee of $500
  • A Department of Health Assessment fee of $200
  • A hearing fee of $35

As you can see, fines and fees are higher for a refusal charge than a DUI. The policy behind this is the same as above. Those who are found guilty/plea to a refusal do not have a criminal conviction so their fines are higher.

Other Penalties

Criminal convictions, license suspensions, and heavy fines/fees are not the only punishments available to the court. Those who enter a plea or are found guilty of a refusal or DUI will also be required to perform 10-60 hours of community service and attend DUI school and/or substance abuse counseling.

Reinstating Your License

Before a driver may reinstate their license, they will first must pay all fines and fees, complete community service, complete DUI school and/or substance abuse counseling, and wait the requisite suspension period. In addition, drivers will be required to hold SR-22 “safety responsibility” insurance for three years and pay a reinstatement fee to the DMV of $351.50.

Summary of 1st Offense DUI BAC unknown and 1st Offense Refusal Penalties

DUI (BAC unknown)

  • Criminal conviction (can be expunged after five years, if eligible)
  • License suspension of 3 months to 1 year (likely 3 months)
  • Fine of $100-$300
  • Fee of $86

REFUSAL

  • Not a criminal conviction (appears only on your driving record)
  • License Suspension of 6 months to 1 year (likely 6 months)
  • Fine of $200-$500
  • Department of Health Fee of $200

BOTH REQUIRE:

  • Performance of 10-60 hours of community service
  • Highway assessment fee $500
  • Substance abuse counseling and/or DUI school
  • Court costs/hearing costs
  • SR-22 Insurance for three years
  • Reinstatement of license fees ($351.50)