Can you Refuse a Breathalyzer Test in Rhode Island?

Can you Refuse a Breathalyzer Test in Rhode Island?

When you’re pulled over by the police and accused of Driving Under the Influence (DUI), it can be a really stressful experience with many legal consequences. You’re facing the uncertainty of the legal process and the shock of being arrested. These feelings are amplified if it’s the first time that you have been arrested or charged with a DUI.

If a law enforcement officer suspects that you’re drinking and driving while under the influence of alcohol, they can ask you to do a chemical test to verify your current Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) and use that, alongside other tests, like, the One-Leg Stand Test, Nine-Step Walk-and-Turn Test or the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, to determine if you’re fit to drive.

Rhode Island General Laws § 31-27-2.1(a), states, “Any person who operates a motor vehicle within this state shall be deemed to have given his or her consent to chemical tests of his or her breath, blood, saliva and/or urine for the purpose of determining the chemical content of his or her body fluids or breath.” Implied consent means that when you are suspected of driving under the influence in Rhode Island, you have been deemed to have given consent to submit to chemical testing. If you do not, you could be subject to sanctions, such as, a suspension on your driver’s license and other penalties under the law. This particular law is referred to as the “Implied Consent” law and, in Rhode Island, there are significant legal consequences for refusing to undergo a chemical test. While this is, without a doubt, a daunting situation, at Ellison Law LLC, we advocate that everyone deserves proper legal counsel so that you can navigate this difficult situation.

What is a Chemical Test in Rhode Island?

A chemical test is a scientific analysis done to detect the presence of a foreign substance like alcohol or drugs within your body. Typically, the most common tests are: preliminary breathalyzer test (PBT), breath test (breathalyzer) or a blood test.

What is a PBT in Rhode Island?

A PBT is a Preliminary Breathalyzer Test. A PBT is administered on sight, usually on the side of the road. This means that the police officer, after pulling you over and with the suspicion that you’re likely under the influence of alcohol, will use this portable device to gather additional evidence of intoxication.

In order to take a PBT, you have to exhale into a tube that it’s connected to the device. Most of the time the results are considered inadmissible in court due to their unreliableness. However, they can be admitted to establish probable cause for an arrest.

What is the difference between a PBT and a Breathalyzer Test in Rhode Island?

You may be wondering if there’s a difference between a PBT and a Breathalyzer Test and indeed, they are different. The PBT is a portable test that the officers do while the traffic stop is happening whereas a Breathalyzer Test is a test done after a person has been arrested. The Breathalyzer Test is done in the station while the officer observes you and asks you to blow into a machine. Unlike the PBT, a Breathalyzer Test gives results that are much more accurate because they’re maintained, regulated and certified by the Rhode Island Department of Health. This means that the results of the Breathalyzer Test can be admissible in court to help the prosecution prove impairment and intoxication.

Can I Refuse to do a Chemical Test in Rhode Island?

There’s a difference between refusing to do a PBT on the side of the road and refusing to do a chemical test at the police station with the breathalyzer. Refusing to do a PBT has a less severe penalty than refusing to do a chemical test.

Refusing a PBT is against the law, Rhode Island General Laws § 31-27-2.3(b) states “If a person refuses, upon a lawful request of a law enforcement officer, to submit to a test under subsection (a) of this section, that person shall be guilty of an infraction and shall be subject to the penalty provided in § 31-41.1-4. However, it shall be a defense to a charge of refusing a validly requested preliminary breath analysis that the medical condition of a person precluded the giving of any such test.” The fine for refusing to do a PBT is $85 and can be found in Rhode Island General Laws § 31-41.1-4.

It is against the law to refuse to submit and do a chemical test. Rhode Island General Laws § 31-27-2.1 says the following for refusing to submit to a chemical test:

“Impose, for the first violation, a fine in the amount of two hundred dollars ($200) to five hundred dollars ($500) and shall order the person to perform ten (10) to sixty (60) hours of public community restitution. The person’s driving license in this state shall be suspended for a period of six (6) months to one year… The traffic tribunal judge or magistrate may prohibit that person from operating a motor vehicle that is not equipped with an ignition interlock system and/or blood and urine testing as provided in § 31-27-2.8.”

Every person convicted of a second violation within a five-year (5) period… shall be guilty of a misdemeanor; shall be imprisoned for not more than six (6) months; shall pay a fine in the amount of six hundred dollars ($600) to one thousand dollars ($1,000); perform sixty (60) to one hundred (100) hours of public community restitution; and the person’s driving license in this state shall be suspended for a period of one year to two (2) years. The judge or magistrate shall require alcohol and/or drug treatment for the individual. The sentencing judge or magistrate shall prohibit that person from operating a motor vehicle that is not equipped with an ignition interlock system and/or blood and urine testing as provided in § 31-27-2.8.

Every person convicted for a third or subsequent violation within a five-year (5) period… shall be guilty of a misdemeanor; and shall be imprisoned for not more than one year; fined eight hundred dollars ($800) to one thousand dollars ($1,000); shall perform not less than one hundred (100) hours of public community restitution; and the person’s operator’s license in this state shall be suspended for a period of two (2) years to five (5) years. The sentencing judge or magistrate shall prohibit that person from operating a motor vehicle that is not equipped with an ignition interlock system and/or blood and urine testing as provided in § 31-27-2.8.

Here’s an easy to read summary of what Rhode Island General Laws § 31-27-2.1 says:

Offense 1st offense 2nd offense (within a 5 year period) 3rd offense (within a 5 year period)
Is the refusal a misdemeanor? No Yes Yes
Is there tail time associated with Refusal? No Up to 6 months Up to 1 year
Fine amount $200 to $500 $600 to $1000 $800 to $1000
Driving License Suspension Time 6 months to 1 year 1 to 2 years 2 to 5 years
Community Service Time 10 to 60 hours of community service 60 to 100 hours of community service Not less than 100 hours of community service

What is an Ignition Interlock System in Rhode Island?

An Ignition Interlock System is a device that is directly attached and linked to the ignition system of a vehicle. In order to start the car the person must blow air into a tube and the device will determine the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of the person. In that regard, it works very similar to the PBT but with the condition that you need to pass the test to use the car.

Furthermore, while driving, the device will prompt the driver to periodically stop the car and provide more breath samples to verify that there isn’t alcohol in the driver’s system while using the vehicle.

Contact Ellison Law LLC Today

You have the right to decline to undergo a chemical test but you must be aware of the legal consequences that are placed in Rhode Island for refusing. If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve been charged with refusing to submit to a chemical test or you’re asked to submit to a chemical test, you don’t have to make legal decisions alone. You have the right to have an attorney represent you. You can reach out to Ellison Law LLC to contact experienced Rhode Island DUI and Refusal lawyers who can provide the representation that you need at 401-230-5520.

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