Rhode Island’s DWI Laws and Conviction Penalties

The consequences of misdemeanor and felony DWIs in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island's driving while intoxicated (DWI) (also called "DUI") laws prohibit driving or operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This article explains how Rhode Island defines this offense, including when a person is considered under the influence and what constitutes operation of a vehicle. For those facing DWI charges, this article also outlines the possible penalties of a conviction and ways to avoid some of these penalties.

Rhode Island's DWI Laws

Rhode Island statutes specifically prohibit any person from driving or operating a vehicle:

In other words, a DWI conviction can be based on BAC or actual impairment.

What "Driving" Means in Rhode Island

Rhode Island specifically defines a driver as anyone who drives or is in actual physical control of a vehicle. This definition obviously includes persons actively steering a running car down the highway, but also includes other situations. The courts have held that any intentional act that will set in motion the motive power of the vehicle is considered driving.

Proof of Intoxication for a DWI Offense in Rhode Island

To prove that the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the prosecutor will have to prove either actual intoxication or an unlawful BAC.

Rhode Island's Definition of Intoxication

A driver who is rendered incapable of safely operating a vehicle due to the consumption of drugs or alcohol is considered to be intoxicated under Rhode Island law. To prove actual impairment, the prosecutor can use officer testimony regarding the physical indicators of impairment as well as the testimony of a drug recognition expert regarding how the ingested substances affect a person's ability to safely operate a vehicle.

Rhode Island's Per se DWI Law

A DWI based on an unlawful BAC is called a "per se DWI" and does not require proof of unsafe driving or actual impairment. A driver that produces a BAC of .08% or more is enough for a DWI conviction.

Lawful Use and Doctor's Prescriptions Aren't Defenses to DWI Charges in Rhode Island

The fact that a driver lawfully possessed the drugs or alcohol or held a valid prescription is not a valid defense to a DWI charge.

Penalties for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd DWI in Rhode Island

The penalties for a DWI in Rhode Island are set by statute and depend mostly on the number of prior convictions. Only DWI convictions within the last five years count.

Jail and Fines for Rhode Island DWI Convictions

Generally, first and second DWI convictions are misdemeanors, but a third-offense DWI is a felony.

The chart below outlines the range of jail time and fines for a first, second, and third DWI conviction in Rhode Island.

1st Offense

2nd Offense

3rd Offense


Up to 1 year

10 days to 1 year

1 to 3 years


$100 to $400



Offenders must also pay a $500 highway assessment fee in addition to any fines.

Rhode Island DWI Probation

Instead of the maximum jail term, the judge will often place the offender on a period of supervised probation. While on probation, the offender must complete all treatment requirements, submit to random testing, and abide by any other court orders such as performing community service.

Rhode Island's DWI Treatment Requirements

All persons convicted of DWI are required to complete some sort of treatment or educational program. At sentencing, the judge will order that the offender complete either a state-approved DWI education course or a certified substance abuse treatment program.

Rhode Island's Aggravated DWI Laws

A driver who was under the influence of a controlled substance or had a BAC of at least .15% will face increased penalties. An Aggravated DWI conviction will carry:

  • up to one year in jail, 20 to 60 hours of community service, and a $500 fine for a first offense
  • six to 12 months in jail and at least $1,000 in fines for a second offense, and
  • three to five years in jail and $1,000 to $5,000 in fines for a third offense.

Unlike a standard DWI, a third-offense aggravated DWI has a ten-year lookback.

Rhode Island's DWI Enhancement for Child Passengers

A driver who was transporting a passenger under the age of 13 will face increased penalties. A conviction carries up to five years in jail, a maximum $1,000 fine, and a two-year license suspension.

An offender who has a prior DWI within the last five years will instead be charged with a felony and face even harsher penalties.

Rhode Island Felony DWI Penalties for Suspended Drivers and Injuries

A DWI in Rhode Island can be charged as a felony if the offender has at least two prior DWI convictions (as previously explained), was driving while suspended, or caused an injury or fatality accident.

DWI While Suspended

Driving while intoxicated while also suspended due to a prior DWI offense is a felony. A conviction carries up to three years in prison, a maximum $3,000 in fines, and treatment requirements.

DWIs Involving Serious Injuries in Rhode Island

A DWI that resulted in serious injury to another will be a felony and carries one to ten years in prison, $1,000 to $5,000 in fines, and up to two years of license revocation. Treatment and other course requirements are also mandatory.

License-Related Penalties for Rhode Island DWI Offenses

Getting caught driving while impaired will generally lead to driver's license penalties, possibly even before the trial. The type and length of suspension depend on the driver's cooperation with law enforcement and the driver's record.

License-related penalties can result from a DWI arrest and/or conviction.

Rhode Island's Implied Consent Law

Under Rhode Island's "implied consent" law, all drivers are deemed to have given consent to a chemical test of his or her breath, blood, saliva, or urine. A driver who refuses to comply with a lawful test request will generally face penalties similar to those that result from a DWI conviction.

Refusing a Chemical Test in Rhode Island

Drivers who refuse a lawful chemical test request, generally face the penalties listed below. All test refusals and DWI convictions within the last five years will be counted as prior offenses.

1st Refusal

2nd Refusal

3rd Refusal



Up to 6 months

Up to 1 year

Community Service

10 to 60 hours

60 to 100 hours

At least 100 hours


$200 to $500

$600 to $1,000

$800 to $1,000

License Suspension

6 months to 1 year

1 to 2 years

2 to 5 years

A blood test refusal does not result in any jail time.

License Revocation for DWI Convictions in Rhode Island

All DWI convictions result in driver's license suspension, but the court has some discretion in setting the duration. For a DWI conviction, the court will order that the driver's license be suspended for:

  • 30 to 180 days months for a first DWI conviction if the driver's BAC is less than .10%
  • three to 12 months for any other first DWI conviction (three to 18 months if aggravated)
  • one to two years for a second DWI conviction (two years if aggravated), and
  • two to three years for a third DWI conviction (three years if aggravated).

Getting a Restricted License in Rhode Island

During sentencing, the judge is permitted to issue a restricted ignition interlock license during the suspension period. With a restricted license, the driver can generally operate a vehicle only with an ignition interlock device (IID). However, in some cases, the judge can order random testing instead of an IID.

Prior to issuing the restricted license, the court will generally require the driver to serve a "hard suspension" for 30, 45, and 60 days for a first, second, and third offense DWI, respectively.

Rhode Island's Underage Drinking and Driving Laws

In Rhode Island, drivers who are under 21 years of age are prohibited from driving with a BAC of .02% or more. Called "driving while impaired," the penalties for underage drinking and driving are slightly lower than those for a standard DWI and include:

  • up to $250 in fines, 30 hours of community service, and a one- to three-month license suspension for a first offense, and
  • up to $250 in fines, a $300 highway assessment fee, 60 hours of community service, and a three- to six-month license suspension.

All offenders must also attend a DWI class or treatment program.

Talk with a Rhode Island DWI Lawyer

The penalties for a Rhode Island DWI are serious, even for a first offense. An experienced attorney can review your case and may be able to find weaknesses in the prosecutor's evidence to use in court or negotiate for lesser penalties. Additionally, some courts have diversion programs that can outright dismiss the charges for successful participants. The requirements of these programs may include fines, treatment, monitored sobriety, and the like. Consult with a local attorney regarding your case and your best options.

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