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  • Ann Sheeley

First-Time DUI in Rhode Island ~ Know Your Options & What to Expect

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

We know facing your first DUI offense in Rhode Island can be a stressful and confusing process. With 25 years of experience defending DUI clients, we want to make sure you understand your rights and options. Below you’ll find some of the most common first offense DUI questions and answers. As always, Sheeley Law is here for you 24/7 and we encourage you to schedule a free consultation so we may help answer your specific questions.

Car Accidents & DUIs are on the Rise
What are the potential penalties for a first DUI offense in RI?

The penalties for a first offense in Rhode Island will vary depending on the details on the circumstances of your arrest. One important determining factor is if you agreed or refused a breathalyzer or blood test. Legally, you have the right to decline a breathalyzer and/or blood test. However, Rhode Island has an "implied consent law,” meaning if you refuse, you will automatically receive a Refusal charge. If you agree to a breathalyzer and/or blood test, the results can be used against you in court and that could be enough evidence to support a DUI/OUI conviction, which has much more severe penalties than a Refusal charge.

If this is your first offense, the main advantage in refusing to submit to a breathalyzer and/or blood test is that you may avoid a criminal conviction. Your first offense of refusing a breathalyzer and/or blood test results in a civil citation, and therefore, is not classified as a crime. A second offense of refusal is classified as a misdemeanor and is a criminal offense which will be heard at the District Court rather than the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal.

The consequences for even being accused of refusing to submit to a chemical test in Rhode Island are severe. The penalties include a mandatory license suspension that can range anywhere from six to twelve months, mandatory community service, hefty fines often in the thousands of dollars range, mandatory DUI school and substance abuse and alcohol treatment and counseling. It is extremely rare that a person would be sentenced to prison for a first offense DUI charge. If you submitted to the breathalyzer and/or blood test, it is important to know that the penalties increase based on the level of intoxication, which is determined by the driver's BAC readings.

Should You Hire a Lawyer for a First Offense DUI?

Yes, a DUI is a serious offense and Rhode Island and federal DUI laws are too complex to navigate on your own. Even if you have never been arrested before and you have a clean driving record, the answer is still YES. You have the option of being assigned a public defender; however, this will not provide you with the strongest representation due to their lack of time and resources. The odds of you getting your charges reduced or dismissed will be far better with an experienced DUI attorney than with a public defender. Also, keep in mind that a public defender is not able to represent you at the Traffic Tribunal regarding a Refusal charge. This is important as you may wish to get a “hardship license” to have the ability to drive to and from your job. Certain criteria must be met for the Court to grant a “hardship license”, and coordination between the District Court and the Traffic Tribunal regarding the charges is vitally important for the best outcome.

In fact, the first thing you should do if you are arrested for a DUI is exercising your legal right to contact an attorney. From the moment you get pulled over, you’ll need to make consequential decisions very quickly and you’ll have several questions that need immediate answers. Your attorney will have the answers to your questions, help guide you through the entire process, examine the specific details of your case to determine if there are any defense strategies that can reduce your charges, and importantly, protect you from unfairness and grievance. You might think that hiring a DUI attorney is too expensive. The truth of the matter is having a reputable DUI attorney by your side can save you time and money in the long run.

Is it Possible to Beat a First Offense DUI Charge?

Yes, it is possible to have your DUI charges reduced or dismissed. However, be wary of any attorney that makes false promises or guarantees a dismissal. An experienced DUI lawyer such as Ann Sheeley will spend a considerable amount of time reviewing and investigating the evidence in order to prepare an effective DUI defense. Importantly, they will protect your rights. There are many cases where the police do not follow proper protocol or use entrapment to pull you over. If you believe your rights were violated, your DUI attorney should be able to argue the circumstances surrounding your arrest with the goal of having the charges dismissed or reduced, some of which may be able to be expunged off your record at a later date.

What Are My Next Steps?

If you were arrested for a DUI first offense, you are likely nervous and confused about what to do next. Before you make any decisions, you should consult with experienced DUI defense attorney Ann Sheeley. She handles each case personally, will guide and protect you through the entire process and thoroughly examine all the details of your case to build a defense strategy for having your charges reduced or dismissed. In addition, she can see if you qualify for a hardship license so you can continue to work and live your life. For a free consultation, call 401-619-5555 or email


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