Rhode Island DWI Lawyer
Impaired Driving in Rhode Island
In Rhode Island, whether you are charged with DWI (driving while intoxicated) DUI (driving under the influence), operating while intoxicated (OWI), or operating under the influence (OUI), you are being accused of driving or operating a vehicle while impaired by the use of an illegal substance. DWI or OWI charges refer specifically to alcohol impairment with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher, while DUI or OUI could mean impairment by prescription or illegal drugs. Regardless of the substance that has caused your impairment, the consequences of a conviction can be dire.
Substance-impaired driving is illegal and dangerous, and Rhode Island takes impaired driving very seriously. You can lose your driving privileges, which hinders your freedom and your ability to get to work. You’ll also have to pay fines and restitution to anyone whose property or person has been damaged as a result of your impaired driving. It is therefore in your best interests to fight against being convicted and to keep your driver’s license with the help of an experienced Rhode Island DWI defense attorney.
The Traffic Stop
A police officer can’t just stop you randomly; at least not legally. However, if the officer has observed certain indications that you might be “under the influence,” he or she may pull you over. These are some observations that might precipitate a traffic stop:
- Driving in the wrong lane or drifting across the center line.
- Making an unusually wide or other unsafe turn.
- Going in the wrong direction on a one-way street.
- A near miss with another vehicle or stationary object beside the road.
- Swerving or weaving.
- Driving off the edge of the road.
- Driving too slowly or too fast.
- Sudden braking or stopping for no reason in an inappropriate place.
- Tailgating another vehicle.
- Turning into oncoming traffic.
- Signaling one direction while turning in another.
- Being slow to react to traffic signs or signals.
- Driving in the dark without headlights.
- Causing an accident.
Being able to prove that you were pulled over without probable cause may be a defense if you are charged with DUI.
The Field Sobriety Test
The police office will ask you if you’ve been drinking, a question to which you should decline to respond (unless the honest answer is “no”), and then will usually ask you to submit to a field sobriety test. These tests will typically consist of you being instructed to:
- Walk a certain number of steps heel to toe and then turn and walk back.
- Balance on one foot.
- Have a light shone in your eyes to check for dilation or astigmatism, a.k.a involuntary movement.
- Recite the alphabet from a random letter to another (for example, E-Q).
These tests concern your ability to follow instructions along with your ability to actually do them. You are not legally required to take a field sobriety test, but you may be arrested because of your refusal.
Breath and Chemical BAC Tests; Rhode Island’s Implied Consent Law
You will be asked to blow into a device that will measure your blood alcohol content and/or submit to blood or urine chemical tests. Do you have a legal right to refuse? Yes; you have a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The question is whether it will be to your advantage. Because of Rhode Island’s Implied Consent law, obtaining and using a driver’s license means that you agree to be tested for blood alcohol content. You can refuse a breathalyzer, but by law, your license will be administratively suspended. Your refusal can also be presented as evidence against you in court, and while it is possible to defend against a refusal suspension, it is difficult.
You stand a better chance of keeping your driving privileges and beating the DUI charge if you submit to the breathalyzer, even if you fail. There are numerous defenses that can be raised in your behalf by a DUI defense attorney who understands the law and has the experience and strategic ability to invalidate the test results and keep you from being convicted on this serious and life-damaging charge.
Defenses to DUI Charges
Attorney Stephanie A. Murphy will conduct a close examination of the manner in which the test was given to determine where the officer may have deviated even slightly from proper procedure, and will raise questions as to the accuracy of the test, based on the age and maintenance of the equipment. Possible defenses include:
- The police had no probable cause to ask you submit to a breathalyzer, blood, or urine test to provide evidence of criminal impairment.
- The police failed to advise you of your right to have an independent chemical test performed by a physician or hospital of your choice and provided or failed to provide you with an opportunity exercise this right.
- The police administered the test without first observing you for at least 15 minutes.
- A copy of the breathalyzer results was not provided to you by mail within 72 hours of the test being administered.
- The Breathalyzer equipment was not in full compliance with Department of Health regulations.
- The breath test operator was not properly certified to administer the test, within the past 365 days.
- The officer neglected to provide two complete samples taken within a 30-minute period.
- The two samples did not produce readings within .05 percent of each other.
Administrative DWI Penalties in Rhode Island
A DWI charge in Rhode Island is subject to two separate proceedings: administrative, by the Department of Motor Vehicles, and criminal, which is handled by the court system.
For a first DWI offense, administrative penalties include:
- License suspension, applied based on your measured BAC at time of arrest:
- Up to .10 ― minimum thirty day license suspension
- Up to .15 ― three month suspension
- Over .15 ― between three and 18 month suspension
- Refusal to submit to BAC testing under implied consent laws – automatic six month license plus fines and community service
- DUI school attendance
These are the penalties for an adult’s first DUI in Rhode Island that did not result in injury or death. A prior DUI conviction within the past five years will usually result in enhanced criminal penalties. A court may also require an ignition interlock system as a condition of reinstatement of your license if you have prior convictions.
- Up to a year in jail and/or fines of:
- Up to $300 with BAC below .10
- Up to $400 f with BAC below .15a
- Up to $500 with BAC above .15.
- Plus an additional $500 highway assessment fee at all BAC levels
- Ten to sixty hours of community service
DUI charges that are the result of an accident which caused serious injury or death are dealt with seriously in Rhode Island, with significantly enhanced penalties. These are the penalties for a first offense DUI resulting in an injury or fatality:
DUI causing serious injury:
- One to ten years in prison.
- Fines of $1,000 to $5,000.
- License revocation of up to two years.
- Participation in an alcohol and/or drug treatment program.
DUI causing death:
- Five to fifteen years in prison
- Fines of $5,000 to $10,000.
- License Revocation for five years.
- Participation in an alcohol or drug treatment program
Prior convictions involving injury or death will result in enhanced penalties.
If your license has been suspended, and it is your first or second offense, you may be eligible for a conditional hardship license to be able to work, go to medical or therapy appointments, attend school or job training, or go to the grocery store. You would still:
- Prove to the court that you have a need, and that inability to drive will create hardship for you or your family.
- Have to install, at your expense, an ignition interlock system.
Having a Rhode Island DUI lawyer to present your case to the judge or magistrate will make it more likely that you will be granted a hardship license and that the hardship license carries the fewest restrictions.
- What should I do if I am pulled over and have been drinking? The first thing you should do is remain calm and pull out your license, registration and insurance information. Roll down your windows and turn off the radio. When the officer approaches answer all questions with yes or no sir or madam and do NOT give any incriminating information.If the officer asks you to step out of the car and take field sobriety then carefully get out of your car and politely decline to take field sobriety tests. You do NOT have to agree to take them and it is very rare that even a sober person passes them. Do not take a portable breath test (PBT) on the side of the road. This information is used to gather probable cause for your arrest.If taken back to the station, you will be asked if you should take a chemical test or not. If you decide to take a test, immediately ask for your own independent test and to exercise your right to a physical examination.
- Should I take a chemical test or refuse the chemical test? The answer to this question depends on your individual case and situation. The best advice is to call your attorney while at the station during your legal right to a confidential phone call. If you believe that you can blow a .08 or less then you should take the chemical test. If not, then the results of your test can be introduced in the DUI case and by used against you.
- What are the penalties for driving under the influence? The penalties for driving under the influence range depending on what the exact charge. If you refused the chemical test you will be charged with a DUI BAC unknown and will face a three to 12 month loss of license, up to a year in jail, DUI school and/or alcohol counseling, community service and fines, assessments and court costs that are great then $700.If your readings were under a .10, so in between .08 to .10 then the loss of license is significantly less, 30 days plus. If readings are over a .15 then the loss of license is increased to 18 months with enhanced fines and community service.
- What if I fail a field sobriety test? There may be a number of reasons you fail such a test. Medical issues (including vertigo, seizures, chronic knee or back pain etc.), short-term memory problems, being on medication at the time of your stop etc. Be sure to share any and all of these with your criminal defense attorney. If you submit to one and fail, the results can often be successfully challenged in court depending on how the tests were conducted by the officer.
- Can I win my case if law enforcement made one or more mistakes? In the event any field sobriety tests are improperly administered let your legal team know at once. One mistake could be the difference between a guilty conviction and having the charges dropped.
- Is there a way to not lose my license? Yes there is a way to not lose your license. If you have a Rhode Island license, you may be eligible for a hardship license and/or a interlock license. This works differently for a refusal and a DUI. The Law Offices of Stefanie Murphy has had many clients who were charged with a DUI and/or refusal who did not lose their license either because the case was dismissed or the court granted a hardship license.
Myth: One drink will impair your ability to drive. Truth: Drivers with low blood alcohol content are no more likely to have an accident than totally abstinent drivers.
Myth: Blood alcohol content is a reliable measure of impairment behind the wheel. Truth: At any given BAC, frequent drinkers are less impaired than teetotalers.
Myth: Breathalyzers are a consistent and reliable measure of impairment. Truth: BAC levels and impairment are highly variable from individual to individual.
Myth: Lowering BAC limit to .08will get “drunks” off the road. Truth: Typical DUI arrests are of individuals with a BAC over .15.
Contact a Rhode Island DWI Attorney
If you have been accused of DUI in Rhode Island, you are facing the possibility of serious disruption to your life, your freedom, your ability to provide for yourself and your family, and a loss of reputation in the community, as well as incurring financial hardship as a result of fines, fees, and other expenses.
It happens too often that people assume there is nothing to do but plead guilty and accept the consequences if they have failed a breathalyzer test, but DUI criminal charges are subject to a very high standard of proof, and there are many ways to fight them successfully. If you or someone you love are facing DUI charges, call our experienced Rhode Island criminal defense lawyer at theLaw Offices of Stephanie A. Murphy. Your initial case consultation is free, and easy payment plans are available.