Drunk Drivers Face Stiff Penalties for Refusing
By Sam Bari
Governor Donald L. Carcieri last week signed legislation that
increases the penalties for those who refuse to submit to a Breathalyzer
test when they are stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence
Although the DUI legislation includes driving under the influence of
both alcohol and drugs, the Breathalyzer can only test for the
consumption of alcohol.
The new law proposed last November by the governor and state Attorney
General Patrick Lynch, increases penalties for Breathalyzer refusal.
Carcieri said that the new law eliminated a major loophole in the state’s
drunk driving laws. The law went into effect July 5, as soon as the
governor signed the bill.
“Last November, Attorney General Lynch and I announced that we were
jointly submitting legislation that would help put an end to Rhode
Island’s shameful distinction as leading the nation in the percentage of
DUI-refusal cases and the percentage of total highway deaths caused by
drunken drivers,” Carcieri said.
“The General Assembly heard our message and did the right thing in
passing legislation that gets tough on those who refuse Breathalyzer
tests,” he added.
“For too long, we have allowed dangerous drivers to escape more
serious penalties when they refuse to submit to Breathalyzer tests. They
will no longer be able to exploit the system,” the governor continued.
“If you refuse a Breathalyzer test, you will face the consequences. In
Rhode Island, we have zero tolerance for drunk drivers,” he said.
Carcieri was joined at the billsigning ceremony by Attorney General
Lynch, the sponsors of the legislation, state Senator Joseph Polisena of
Johnston and Representative J. Patrick O’Neill of Pawtucket, and
advocates for tougher drunk driving laws, including Mothers Against Drunk
Before the new law took effect, the penalties for refusing a
Breathalyzer test were significantly less than the penalties for DUI.
Under the new law, the penalties for DUI refusal increase
First-time offenders will now have their driver’s license suspended
for six months to one year for Breathalyzer refusal. Under the old law, a
driver’s license was suspended from three months to six months. The
fines, community service requirements, and mandatory participation in a
drunken-driving course remain unchanged.
For second offenses committed within a five-year period, offenders
will be charged with a misdemeanor, face a sentence of up to six months
in prison, and have their driver’s license suspended for one to two
years. They must also pay a fine of $600 to $1,000, and perform 60 to 100
hours of community service. Under the old law, the offense was considered
a violation. A prison sentence was not imposed, the fine was $300 to
$500, and community service was not required. The suspension of a
driver’s license for one to two years and the requirements of alcohol
and/or drug treatment remain unchanged.
For third-time offenders within a five-year period, suspects are
charged with a misdemeanor, face a sentence of up to one year in prison,
and have their driver’s licenses suspended for two to five years. They
must pay an $800 to $1,000 fine and perform a minimum of 100 hours of
community service. Under the old law, the offense was considered a
violation and not a misdemeanor, which eliminated a prison sentence. The
fine was $400 to $500, and community service was not imposed. The
requirements for alcohol and/or drug treatment remain unchanged.
“It ups the anti,” said Sgt. Jack Dube, a 26-year veteran of the
Jamestown Police Department. “There’s a big difference between losing a
license for three to six months, and losing it for a year for a first
offense,” he said.
“It’ll make people think twice before they get behind the wheel after
having a few,” he added. “I definitely think it’s a good
thing,” said Police Lt. William Donovan. “Refusing to take the test
used to mean no criminal offense on record for second and third
offenders. Now, refusal is a misdemeanor, and the penalties are much
stiffer. It’s no longer a civil matter. DUI is a serious offense, and
should be treated as such. The law moves us in the direction of the rest
of the country.”