Breath Test Refusals Rouse Law Reform

Breath Test Refusals Rouse Law Reform

Westerly, RI-In the state of Rhode Island, drivers refuse to take Breathalyzer tests more than in any other state in the country. While the national average is around 25%, Rhode Island’s statistic is at 85% according to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

A clear explanation for Rhode Island’s history with this ranking comes from the state’s laws: refusing the Breathalyzer test does not lead to a criminal offense or time in prison. Instead DUI offenders lose their licenses and pay heavy fines because the refusal is treated as a lighter violation of the law.

In Rhode Island, a person is double-charged when refusing the Breathalyzer because they receive charges for both the DUI and the test refusal. Police officers then use visual signs of intoxication to convict a person of DWI. However judges often dismiss at least one of the two charges when officer observation is the only evidence.

Several county police chiefs concur that the consequences of Breathalyzer test refusal need to carry more weight. Under the current state laws, the first three offenses bring fines of $200-500 and a suspended license,
with the penalties increasing for each offense after the first. The first offense includes 10-60 hours of community service, and the second includes an alcohol treatment program.

The first-time DWI brings very similar penalties as the first offense for refusal of a Breathalyzer test, however the second offense carries a much heavier fine-maximum $1,000-and 10 days in jail. The third offense brings a maximum fine of $5,000 plus one year in jail.

While police officers may suggest that stricter penalties for test refusal could solve the problem, Michael Cozzolino, a local defense attorney, believes that stricter penalties promote people to incriminate themselves. Cozzolino tells his clients to avoid taking the Breathalyzer test.

Cozzolino thinks that the Connecticut laws seem to create smoother results. In Connecticut, which borders Rhode Island, the DUI laws make taking the Breathalyzer test more appealing than refusing it. First-time offenders can be freed of their DWI charge if they attend a special pretrial education program. An offender is not given the option of the educational workshop if they have been charged with refusing the test.

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers advice regarding lowering the rate of refusal, some is obvious (make penalties more severe) and some is equivocal (interviewing bartenders). By comparing and contrasting the results in different states, Rhode Island police chiefs and citizens hope to lower the state’s continual issue with Breathalyzer test refusal.

August, 2005

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