Under the direction of the Rhode Island state attorney general’s office, police departments are distributing revised “rights for use at station” forms to drivers brought in for questioning on suspected drunk driving charges. The state updated the forms in response to dozens of challenges by defense lawyers, who claim that their clients did not receive accurate advice of their rights regarding chemical tests in suspected drunken-driving cases.
2015 Changes to Rhode Island DUI Laws
The new forms spell out changes to Rhode Island DUI laws that came into effect in January 2015. Information that was missing from the previous rights for use forms include:
- Banned drivers may now request hardship licenses, also known as Cinderella or work licenses that enable them to drive to and from work. The work license is only valid for 12 hours a day.
- Drivers may be required to use an ignition interlock device in exchange for a lower minimum penalty or for a hardship license. The device prevents a driver from starting his or her automobile. It may also force a driver to stop driving if alcohol if it detects alcohol in their breath.
- There may be penalties for those who waive their right to a breath test.
Defense attorneys are asking for blood-alcohol test results to be suppressed because their clients were unable to give informed consent because of information missing from the form. Others are asking for charges to be reduced from DUI to reckless driving. One attorney estimated that he had made at least 30 challenges owing to the inaccuracies in the form.
Challenging Breath Tests as a Defensive Strategy
Chemical tests in general are a popular target for defense attorneys in DUI cases because there are so many ways that they can go wrong. Breath testing equipment can produce a false positive result in someone who is on the Atkin’s Diet or someone who has handled paint thinner.
The Intoxilyzer 5000, used formerly used for DUI breath testing in the state of Pennsylvania, is notoriously inaccurate and was removed from use in 2013. The problem is that the longer the suspect breathes into the machine, the higher the alcohol reading.
Physiological variables, such as gender, physical condition and lung capacity can all influence breath test readings. Rhode Island is in the process of adopting the new, “improved,” Intoxilyzer 9000.
Another vulnerability of breath testing machines is the software used to calculate alcohol levels in a sample. Forensic experts have identified numerous software errors that defense lawyers have successfully exploited to their clients’ advantage.
The change over from the Intoxilyzer 5000 to the Model 9000, together with the newly introduced forms, are bound to create confusion in the Rhode Island courts for some time to come.