Last year, the United States Supreme Court in Birchfield v. North Dakota, ruled that individuals could not be prosecuted criminally for refusing to submit to a blood test. Currently, Rhode Island law criminalizes second and subsequent blood test refusals, which is unconstitutional after the Birchfield decision. In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Rhode Island General Assembly is now considering a bill which would decriminalize blood test refusals and change the penalties for second and subsequent offenses.

House Bill 5520, sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of the Attorney General, would make all blood test refusals a civil violation. However, the move from criminal to civil does not come without consequences to those motorists who refuse a blood test. While the penalties for first offense refusals will remain the same, penalties for second and subsequent blood test refusals would increase substantially under this bill.

Changes to Second Offense Refusal Penalties

Under the current version of Rhode Island General Laws § 31-27-2.1 (b)(2), the penalties for a second offense blood test refusal include:

  • A fine of $600 to $800
  • Sixty (60) hours of community service
  • A license suspension of one (1) to two (2) years

Under House Bill 5520, second offense penalties for refusing a blood test would increase to:

  • A fine of $800 to $1,000
  • Eighty (80) to one hundred (100) hours of community service
  • A license suspension of two (2) to three (3) years

Changes to Third and Subsequent Offense Refusal Penalties

Under the current version of Rhode Island General Laws §31-27-2.1 (b)(3) penalties for a third or subsequent blood test refusal include:

  • A fine of $800 to $1,000
  • A license suspension of two (2) to five (5) years

Under House Bill 5520, third or subsequent offense penalties for refusing a blood test would increase to:

  • A fine of $1,000 to $1,500
  • A license suspension of three (3) to three (5) years

Analysis of House Bill 5520

This Bill will most likely pass through the General Assembly, due to unconstitutional state of the current Rhode Island statute on blood test refusals. However, criminal defense attorneys and advocates, hope to challenge the bill’s increase in penalties. It is unclear why the legislature is seeking to enhance penalties for those who refuse a blood test, as opposed to those who simply refuse a breathalyzer or urine test. The mere fact that a blood test refusal is civil, rather than criminal, should not warrant such a sharp change in penalties.

Be sure to follow Abilheira Law on social media for updates on this bill and others. We will continue to update you as the legislative session progresses.

Have you been charged with a chemical test refusal?

If you have been charged with a chemical test refusal in Rhode Island, call the skilled Rhode Island DUI lawyers at Abilheira Law today for a free and confidential consultation. Our experienced attorneys will begin crafting your defense right away to preserve your license and your freedom.

Call today, 401-245-5100. Our lawyers are available 24/7.