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Understanding DUI Arrests and Breath Tests in Rhode Island

When you have been pulled over and are suspected of drunk driving, you could be asked to provide a breath sample. Misconceptions exist about what your rights are and what these types of tests are. Misunderstandings can lead to more problems, especially if you are facing DUI charges in Rhode Island

Melissa Larsen, Esq. has helped hundreds of clients charged with DUI and/or refusal to submit to a chemical test and understands all aspects of these cases. Melissa believes informed clients make better decisions about their DUI and/or refusal case. If you have questions or want to speak to an experienced DUI lawyer in Rhode Island, call or text Melissa at 401-218-0862 to schedule a free initial consultation.

What Are Breath Tests?

Police officers use breath tests in roadside testing and following arrests to help determine whether an alleged drunk driver was under the influence of alcohol while operating a vehicle. These tests can be used for operators of cars and trucks as well as operators of motorcycles, boats, and other vehicles as defined by their respective state.

There are two different types of breath tests: the preliminary breath test (PBT) (also known as preliminary alcohol screenings) and the breathalyzer. Both "types" are often simply called "breath tests," and that's where the confusion comes in. By referring to both as breath tests, people assume they are the same thing, but they are not. Each is administered for different reasons and purposes.

Preliminary Breath Tests

A preliminary breath test (PBT) or alcohol screening is a breath alcohol test conducted using a portable breath machine in the field, meaning on the side of the road during a traffic stop or DUI investigation. The PBT measures a person's breath alcohol content (BrAC). Portable breath test results are used for investigative purposes only, they are inadmissible in court because they are unreliable. 

PBTs are administered when a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe you are over the legal limit / unable to safely operate a motor vehicle. Maybe the officer detected an order of alcohol on your breath, your speech was slurred or your eyes were bloodshot, and so the officer asks to take a breath sample. A PBT result is commonly used in conjunction with a failed field sobriety tests as sufficient probable cause to arrest you.


After an arrest for a drunk driving offense, you will have to take another test. Typically, this is a chemical test using a breathalyzer. The breathalyzer is not a portable machine and produces results that are more accurate and can be admitted into court as evidence against you. Approved breathalyzer machines are subject to calibration requirements established by Rhode Island law.

Before you provide a breath sample via a breathalyzer, the officer should have read you a "Rights for Use" form to advise you of your rights. If this warning was not provided to you prior to a breathalyzer test, your rights may have been violated.

Do I Have a Right to Refuse a Breath Test in RI?

You can refuse a breathalyzer test but you will be charged with a civil violation that will require your appearance at the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal. PBT tests in the field are typically voluntary while tests used at the police station while in police custody are not voluntary. You can, however, still refuse either one.

Keep in mind, though, that you should be ready for consequences stemming from the refusal. Immediate consequences include civil penalties while long-term consequences are those that may result in a criminal conviction.

Rhode Island has an implied consent law. The law basically say that you implicitly agree to obey the rules of the road when you get a driver's license. As such, you also implicitly agree to any chemical tests (breath, blood, or urine tests) in exchange for the privilege of operating a vehicle in the state. If you refuse, the state's agency for motor vehicles can impose a preliminary license suspension at your first appearance at the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal. You do not have to be charged and convicted of a drunk driving offense to have your license suspended -- you just need to refuse a breath test.  Further, if you refuse, the officer may request a warrant to obtain a blood sample. Blood tests are much more reliable and accurate.

If you were arrested for DUI in RI, you should speak to a drunk driving defense lawyer who handles both refusal and criminal DUI cases. Administratively, Melissa can argue against the preliminary license suspension if, for example, the police failed to warn you of the consequences. Criminally, you can fight DUI-related charges and be successful.

Common Problems with the Breath Tests in Rhode Island

PBT tests using portable machines are known to be unreliable, and that's why they are not admissible in court. Breath tests using breathalyzers at the police station, however, are admissible. They, too, can also be unreliable, especially if they are not properly calibrated, and become inadmissible under certain situations or circumstances.

Problems with breathalyzers can be categorized as those resulting from the testing device or machine, the individual operating the device, or the test sample.

Problems with the Breathalyzer Device

  • Improper calibration
  • Incorrect chemical solutions
  • Inappropriate modification
  • Faulty programming
  • Broken or otherwise not maintained properly

Issues with the Administration of the Test

  • Failure to be advised of your right to refuse the test
  • Improper instructions or methodology
  • Failure to follow testing protocols
  • Testing performed by an untrained person

Causes of Improper Breathalyzer Test Readings

  • Pre-existing conditions or other medical conditions suffered by the test taker
  • Medications, foods, or drinks
  • Residual alcohol from the test taker's mouth
  • Certain diets, like Keto

Breath tests can be challenged. Attorney Larsen can file motions to suppress or exclude the results. Sometimes, if successful, this could result in dismissal of the charges or an acquittal.

Five Ways Melissa Larsen, Esq. May Challenge DUI Breath Tests in RI

A breath test is often a substantial part of the prosecution's case involving DUI offenses. For that reason, it is essential to ensure that a breath test was performed correctly and the results are accurate. Attorney Larsen is well trained and has over two decades of experience, first as a prosecutor and now as a criminal defense lawyer.  Melissa can identify a problem with a breath test and take proper action to suppress it as evidence.

At the Law Office of Melissa Larsen, Esq., we can take any of the following actions, depending on the specific facts and circumstances of your case:

  1. Attack the reliability of the breath test. Many reasons exist why we may not be able to rely on the results of a breath test, like a faulty machine, improper administration, or health issues with the test taker.
  2. Prove the breath device was not properly calibrated. Rhode Island has specific laws on calibration. Verification of the machine's accuracy is requested by Attorney Larsen in every case.
  3. Prove device was not properly maintained. Typically, the date and time of repairs and maintenance, as well as the nature and extent of and who performed the maintenance and repairs must be logged.
  4. Prove there was a lack of training or an operator's error. Police must be trained in order to conduct breath tests. An untrained or uncertified police officer may not properly administer the test.
  5. Prove records were not properly maintained. Records should be kept to show proper calibration and maintenance, and failure to keep those records updated can be used to prove the device was not properly calibrated or maintained as the law requires.

During the discovery phase of your criminal case, we will obtain the information and evidence we need to support arguments against the breath test's admissibility.

Contact DUI and Refusal Lawyer Melissa Larsen, Esq. Today

You can have your day in court to challenge DUI regardless if you took and failed a breath test or refused one. With the right DUI defense lawyer in RI, you can be successful. Contact the Law Office of Melissa Larsen, Esq. today by calling or texting 401-218-0862 or filling out an online form to schedule a free initial consultation. Melissa will immediately review your case and discuss your best legal options.

Attorney Larsen Is Here for You

Attorney Larsen handles all types of Criminal, Family Law, and Personal Injury cases. Attorney Larsen will help you successfully navigate your case.

Contact Attorney Larsen Today

Melissa Larsen is prepared to answer your questions regarding DUI/Chemical Test Refusals, Criminal Defense, Family Law, and Personal Injury cases in all four Rhode Island counties. Attorney Larsen is eager to discuss your case, contact her today for a free consultation.