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Penalties associated with breath test refusal now clearer

Upon being pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving in Rhode Island, a police office must provide an individual with information that pertains to his or her rights. Commonly referred to as the rights of use forms, the contents therein provide crucial information related to penalties associated with a DUI conviction and refusal of a breath test that may ultimately determine an individual's future.

On Jan. 1, 2015, changes to the state's DUI laws went into effect which also resulted in changes to the rights of use forms. Since January 1, several objections have been raised about whether or not the rights of use forms accurately and adequately inform an individual of his or her rights and the possible resulting penalties associated with both a DUI conviction and refusal of a Breathalyzer test.

The form informs individuals of their Miranda Rights and "asks that they submit to a chemical test." An individual is then informed that a refusal to submit to a breath test carries a "mandatory...license suspension of six months to a year." However, as of January 1, judges now have the discretion to both provide individuals convicted of DUI and refusal a hardship driver's license to get to and from work. Additionally, judges also have the discretion to "combine license suspensions with requiring an ignition interlock device."

This means that an individual who refuses to submit to a breath test may face a driver's license suspension of 30 days and be granted a hardship driver's license with an ignition interlock device for anywhere from six months to two years. Defense attorneys moved to suppress evidence in several DUI cases arguing that their clients weren't fully informed of their rights or the penalties associated with a DUI conviction or breath test refusal.

Last month, the attorney general's office conceded to amend the right for use forms to accurately reflect changes in the state's DUI laws and the associated penalties. In doing so, individuals who are asked to submit to a breath test will now be able to weigh their options and make more informed decisions.

A DUI conviction is serious and carries stiff penalties including fines, driver's license revocation and possible time behind bars. For these reasons and especially in light of the changes to Rhode Island's DUI laws, in some cases, refusing a breath test may be in an individual's best interest.

Source: Providence Journal, "Paperwork compromises DUI cases in RI," Katie Mulvaney, March 17, 2015

Providence Journal, "R.I. amends DUI form after challenges to test results," Katie Mulvaney, June 10, 2015

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