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DUI Drugs and Controlled Substances in Rhode Island

Although most people associate a charge of Driving Under the Influence, or DUI with alcohol, a DUI can include driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.  Rhode Island defines a DUI as anyone that operates a motor vehicle and has a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher, or anyone who drives or operates while under the influence of "any scheduled controlled substances as defined within chapter 28 of title 21."  R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-27-2(b)(2). Additionally, "narcotic drugs, depressants, or stimulants" are substances defined under the Uniform Controlled Substances Act.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 21-28-2.02.

You can be charged and convicted of DUI if you drove a vehicle after taking any controlled substance enumerated by state law, including marijuana, even when it is prescribed by a doctor. If you are charged with DUI in Rhode Island, it is important to hire a Rhode Island DUI lawyer to help represent you. The Law Office of David Ellison has experienced Rhode Island DUI attorneys to help you.


For you to be found guilty and convicted for DUI of drugs, the police/prosecution must prove the following:

  1. You were operating a motor vehicle;
  2. Within the State of Rhode Island;
  3. While under the influence of drugs to a degree that would render you incapable of safely operating a vehicle.


            The police/state must provide evidence sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt that you operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs to a degree which prohibited you from driving safely.  An officer starts collecting evidence that can be used against you from the moment they spot you driving.  The type of evidence which may be used against you may include the following:

Driving observations:

  • Swerving
  • Speeding
  • Driving too slow
  • Tailgating
  • Vehicle collision

Observations of the person:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Slow speech
  • Fast speech
  • Disorientation
  • Swaying while standing
  • Unsteady gait
  • Difficulty getting out of vehicle
  • Difficulty responding to officer commands
  • Difficulty in finding proper documentation such a license, registration, insurance information

Standard Field Sobriety Tests:

The Standard Field Sobriety Tests are s series of standardized test developed for law enforcement purposes through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  They are balance tests and divided attention tests meant to be used as a tool for law enforcement to evaluate a person for sobriety.  SFST include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test, which is when an officer looks at your eyes for involuntary spasm or bouncing when looking to the left and the right and up and down.  SFSTs also include the walk and turn test where an officer has you stand heel to toe while they describe the test to you.  The officer then asks you to walk heel to toe for nine steps in a straight line and turn in a specific way and walk back.  The third SFST is the one leg stand where an officer asks you to hold one foot in the air six inches from the ground and hold it up while counting out loud until they tell you to stop.

You do not have to take the SFSTs.  You have the right to respectfully and politely tell an officer that you will not submit to these tests.  These tests are difficult even for people who are sober and only allow an officer to gather more evidence to be used against you.


An officer will ask you a series of questions that are designed to engage you and give the officer information to evaluate you.  Such questions start from the seemingly benign, asking where you are coming from and where you are going, to asking you directly if you have consumed any alcohol or taken any drugs.  If you admit to use of drugs or alcohol, your statement could be used against you.  An officer will use any statements admitting to drug or alcohol use to establish probable cause to arrest you.  Your statements will also be used in court to try and convict you. While lying to a police officer could be a crime, you are not required to answer questions which could incriminate you.  If an officer asks you if you have been drinking or using drugs, you have the right to respectfully and politely refuse to answer these questions.

Medical Tests/Evaluations:

If the police believe you were driving while under the influence of drugs, they will likely have an officer who is trained as a “drug recognition expert” or DRE examine you.  They may take your blood pressure, measure your heart rate and/or examine your eyes for nystagmus (bouncing of the eyes at certain angles).  They will also likely request that you submit to a blood test.  In Rhode Island, if you submit to a blood test, you will be taken to a hospital where your blood will be drawn.  The blood is then taken to be tested at the Rhode Island Forensic Lab.

You do not have to submit to any medical tests unless the police obtain a warrant.  If you refuse a blood test, you will likely be charged with Refusal to Submit to a Chemical Test.  In Rhode Island, the first violation of Refusal to Submit to a Chemical Test is a civil offence.  However, there are significant consequences such as a loss of license and fines/fees, etc.


The penalties for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs are enumerated in Rhode Island General Laws § 31-27-2. Some of the possible penalties for DUI of Drugs in Rhode Island include the following:

  • Possible Jail Sentence
  • License Suspension 
  • Fines and Fees
  • Community Service
  • DUI classes or Drug Counseling 
  • DMV Administrative Penalties 
  • Potential Criminal Conviction 

First Offense DUI of Drugs Penalties:

  • Up to 1 Year in Jail
  • Mandatory License Suspension of 3 to 12 Months
  • Mandatory Fines and Fees
  • Mandatory Community Service
  • Mandatory DUI Class or Alcohol/Drug Counseling
  • Potential Criminal Conviction 

Second Offense DUI of Drugs Penalties:

  • Minimum 10 Days in Jail with up to 1 Year in Jail
  • Mandatory License Suspension of 1 Year up to 2 Years
  • Mandatory Alcohol and/or Drug Treatment
  • Mandatory Fines and Fees
  • Installation of an Ignition Interlock System
  • Potential Criminal Conviction 

Third Offense DUI of Drugs Penalties:

  • Minimum 1 Year in Jail with up to 5 Years in Jail
  • Mandatory License Suspension of 2 Years up to 3 Years
  • Mandatory Alcohol and/or Drug Treatment
  • Mandatory Fines and Fees
  • Installation of an Ignition Interlock System
  • Potential Felony Criminal Conviction 


            Defending against a charge of DUI of drugs requires knowledge of the law and technical knowledge of the process and evidence. If you have been charged with DUI of drugs, you should contact an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer immediately. The Law Office of David Ellison has experienced attorneys available to help you.

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