In an effort to reduce drunk driving accidents and fatalities, Rhode Island recently lowered the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) required to convict a driver of driving under the influence (DUI) from .1% to .08%. While BAC level is dependant upon a number of factors, this change significantly lowers the amount of alcohol a person can consume before they become legally intoxicated, and subject to arrest and prosecution.
Under current law, driving with a BAC of at least .08%, but less that .1%, is a civil violation for the first offense. Minimum mandatory penalties include the payment of fines, court costs and assessments totaling more than $600.00, 10 hours of community service, license suspension up to 45 days and attendance at DUI school and/or alcohol or drug treatment. Driving with a BAC of .1% or above is a misdemeanor criminal offense. The mandatory penalties are similar to those for the civil violation, but with higher fines and assessments, and a minimum license suspension of three (3) months. There are stiffer penalties, including mandatory jail time, for second or subsequent offenses.
BAC is determined using a chemical test, most commonly a breath test referred to as a "breathalyzer." In Rhode Island, anyone who operates a motor vehicle is deemed to have given their consent to take a chemical test. While a driver may refuse to take the test, civil penalties similar to those for DUI will be imposed after a hearing, if the police officer reasonably believes that the person was driving under the influence.
Refusing the breathalyzer does not preclude a DUI prosecution. If a breathalyzer or other chemical test is not available, a DUI conviction may be based on evidence that the driver was intoxicated to a degree which rendered the person "incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle." This is usually accomplished through the testimony of a police officer and the driver's performance on a number of so-called "field sobriety tests." In fact, many police departments will prosecute suspected drunk drivers both criminally (for DUI) and administratively (for refusal).
The surest policy to keep you and your family safe is not to drive after drinking. If you are charged with an alcohol related offense, it is usually not a good idea to represent yourself. Drunk driving is a very complex field of law, with increasingly harsh consequences. The litigation department at Sayer, Regan, Thayer & Flanagan has extensive experience handling DUI cases. We will be happy to schedule a free consultation to answer your questions.
This article contains general information and is not intended to give legal advice. If you have specific questions, you are encouraged to contact an attorney. The R.I. Supreme Court licenses all lawyers in the general practice of law. The court does not license or certify any lawyer as an expert or specialist in any field of practice.