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.

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)