Rhode Island Speeding Violations

In general, Rhode Island has three different types of speed limits. These are called, respectively, "absolute," "presumed," and "basic" speed limits. In order for you to put up the best defense possible if you want to challenge your speeding ticket, it is important for you to know which one you were cited with. Rhode Island also has statutes that provide for license suspension and other enhancements if the motorist has accrued a certain number of violations within a given time period. Additionally, these enhancements can vary based on the nature of the violation in question. The newly enacted “Colin Foote’s Law” is a prominent example of such an enhancement statute. In Rhode Island, license suspension may also be indefinite if the Traffic Judge makes factual findings regarding the danger of a particular motorist.

Speed Limits that are Absolute

Many people wonder how to fight a speeding ticket, especially a traffic violation for going above the absolute speed limit. An absolute speed limit is quite straight forward -- if the posted limit is 40 mph, then that is the absolute limit. If you are going 45 mph, you are violating the absolute speed limit. There are limited defenses for such a ticket, but some of them include:

  • Claim that you were speeding because of an emergency. The emergency must have made you speed in order to avoid serious injury to yourself or others. An example of a good defense would be if you were forced to speed because you had to outrun the firestorm that was raging down the road, engulfing everything in flame.

  • Challenge the determination of your speed. A traffic ticket will often have your tracked speed written down on it, and you have the right to challenge this statement. To make this defense, you must first determine what method the officer used to determine your speed (laser, pacing, sight, radar), and then either attack the method used or the officer's implementation of that method (such as challenging the officer's training with the device).

  • Challenge the officer's identification of your automobile and claim that you were mistaken with a similar car that was driving next to you at the time of the ticket. Many cars look very similar, and it could be easy for the officer to mistake your car for the one he clocked speeding after losing sight of it over a hill.

Fight a Speeding Ticket under a Presumed Speed Limit

If you have been given a ticket under a presumed speed limit, this means that the officer accused you of driving at an unsafe speed for the conditions present at the time. There are two general defenses to such a ticket. First, you can challenge the officer's claim that you were driving above the posted speed limit, just as if you were challenging an absolute speed limit violation. However, you can also claim that, even if you were driving above the posted speed limit, your driving was safe for the conditions at the time of the ticket.

Here is one example. If you were ticketed for going 45 mph in a 35 mph zone and there is little chance of proving that you were not going 45, you could claim that you were driving safe given the conditions. Perhaps the traffic around you was traveling at 50 mph or above and you felt that you would be a danger on the road if you were going 35 mph and did not want to get read-ended by a speeding car.

If you decide to take such an approach to challenging your speeding ticket, you will have the burden of proving that the speed you were driving at was a safe speed given the conditions. It is generally assumed that the posted speed limit is the safest maximum speed for any given stretch of road, so you will have to overcome this presumption to be successful.

It could be nigh impossible to show that going 60 miles per hour in a 25 mph area is safe, but it could be possible to show that going 35 mph in a 25 mph is safe given certain conditions. Perhaps the road is very wide and straight, and the only reason the speed limit is 25 mph is because of pressure put on the city government by wealthy residents. In these situations, you may have a strong argument.

In order for you to build the best case possible, it is helpful to have certain pieces of evidence to present to the judge. First, you should go back to the scene of the ticket at the same time of day you got the citation and take pictures, both from the sidewalk, as well as from a driver's point of view. The more that you can show it is safe to go above the speed limit on a certain stretch of road, the better.

Next, you should be able to diagram the section of road where you were ticketed, and demonstrate any other factors that would be beneficial to your case on the diagram. For instance, if you can show that you got your ticket on an open stretch of road between two cities instead of in a busy downtown area, you have a strong chance of showing that your speed was safe given the situation. Also, if you can show that the road was heavily congested at the time of your ticket, and that all the cars around you were exceeding the posted speed limit, you can argue that you would be a danger on the road if you had to obey the absolute speed limit.

Basic Speed Limits

The general premise of a basic speed limit law is simply the reverse of a presumed speed limit, like a presumed speed limit that works in favor of police officers. Police officers can ticket you for driving at a speed under the posted speed limit if the conditions make it so that your speed is unsafe.

Often, it is possible to argue that the posted speed limit on a road is above what the safe speed limit is. Rainy, snowy or windy conditions can make driving more dangerous and could possibly reduce a presumed speed limit from 65 mph to 50 mph in the officer's mind. Police officers have discretion to ticket drivers for driving at or below a posted speed limit if the conditions make it unsafe.

However, if you have been ticketed for driving at or below the posted speed limit, you will be afforded extra protections should you decide to challenge the ticket. The biggest difference is that instead of you having to prove that you were driving at a safe speed given the conditions, the officer must instead prove that, given the conditions, the speed you were driving at was unsafe. This may be hard for the officer to do if you were not involved in an accident. After all, the legal presumption is that the posted speed limit is the safe speed to travel at.

Police often cite people who have been involved in car accidents with speeding tickets according to the basic speed limit. Their logic follows like this -- if you were involved in a car accident, there was something that must have been unsafe, and it was probably your speed. However, don't panic if you receive a traffic ticket on top of being in a car accident. The logic is flawed -- there can be a number of other reasons for the car accident, even another driver.

If the officer accuses you of violating the basic speed limit and uses the accident as proof of the "unsafeness" of your speed, you can and should challenge him on this. Ask the officer if there could have been any other factors that caused the accident. These could include:

  • An act of nature such as a gust of wind that blew over the truck next to you, or the falling tree that you had to swerve to avoid

  • The reckless or negligent driving of another person on the road

  • A road defect such as a pothole, a missing stoplight, or a stop sign that had been stolen recently.

Most Rhode Island Traffic Violations are adjudicated at the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal. Having knowledge about the procedural mechanisms at this Court is vital to effectively representing the client.

"A majority of DUI and DWI arrests for driving while intoxicated are made without warrants and are based on personal observation of the suspect's conduct by the arresting officer."

With respect to a Rhode Island DUI, DWI, driving under the influence, or drunk driving prosecution, a majority of arrests for driving while intoxicated are made without warrants and are based on personal observation of the suspect's conduct by the arresting officer. This raises the constitutional issue, in nearly every case, of whether probable cause existed for the arrest. If probable cause to arrest did not exist when the police initially stopped the suspect, an illegal arrest was made and all evidence gained after the arrest would be inadmissible. While probable cause to arrest is rather apparent when a suspect was driving recklessly and a strong smell of alcohol on his breath was evident to the officer or the suspect got out of the automobile with a bottle of liquor in his hand, probable cause is not so apparent where an individual is stopped for a routine driver's license check or similar reason, and the officers smell alcoholic odors but do not detect further evidence of drunkenness. State courts divide on the question of probable cause to make an arrest under the latter fact situation. A Rhode Island criminal defense lawyer will generally analyze probable cause before they review other issues in the DUI or DWI case.

Currently, traffic safety proponents are urging that a police officer be authorized by statute to make a misdemeanor arrest for driving while intoxicated where the crime was not committed in his presence but where, after personal investigation, he finds reasonable grounds to believe that the person did commit the offense. These traffic safety people believe that such increased authority in the area of arrest would be helpful in the investigation of traffic accidents in which it is apparent that one driver was intoxicated but where the officer did not observe the accident.

In a few cases, a charge for driving while intoxicated may be filed solely on the basis of the complaint of a private citizen, and the police fear that the suspect is about to flee the jurisdiction. In these situations, whether a warrant must be issued to make a misdemeanor arrest, or whether the police may make a felony arrest without a warrant on the ground that there is insufficient time to secure a warrant depends on whether the suspect is still intoxicated at the time he is approached by the police. Of course, if some action occurs in their presence that gives them probable cause to stop him, the police may make a valid arrest without a warrant. However, if the suspect is not still intoxicated, and the police are not certain that a felony is involved, a warrant must be secured unless one of the police officers knows of previous convictions of the suspect that would raise the instant offense to a felony level. Consider the following cases:

"In Rhode Island, DUI, DWI, Driving Under the Influence, and Drunk Driving cases seem to provide motorists with minimized constitutional protections under the law."

In Rhode Island, DUI, DWI, Driving Under the Influence, and Drunk Driving cases seem to provide motorists with minimized constitutional protections under the law. Most police agencies now take the position that the court-recognized status of a driver's license as a privilege, coupled with the statutory authorization for chemical intoxication tests in driving-while-intoxicated cases, amounts to a waiver of a suspect's constitutional rights against self-incrimination and the right to counsel prior to questioning and the giving of the test, unless otherwise provided by state law. Consequently, the normal order of police routine involves (1) a demand on the suspect to take the test, (2) extensive questioning, (3) performing the test, and finally, (4) an offer of an opportunity to the suspect to consult counsel.

In cases where the police should have recognized that the cause of the apparently intoxicated behavior was not alcohol, but was instead a medical condition from which the subject was suffering, a cause of action may exist against the police for failure to assure that the defendant was immediately delivered to a hospital for medical treatment.  Of course, it becomes very important to provide alternate reasons for the suspect’s failure to properly perform standardized field sobriety tests. 

In one Federal case, officers had probable cause to arrest motorist at roadblock, and such seizure did not violate his civil rights, where officer received report that possibly intoxicated driver was slumped over steering wheel of vehicle parked on shoulder of interstate, motorist's appearance indicated that he had been drinking, motorist declined to answer officer's questions and drove away without explanation, motorist failed to stop when officer engaged his emergency equipment, bumped motorist's vehicle,and shot out his tires, and motorist swerved to prevent officer from passing him. U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 4; 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983. Latta v. Keryte, 118 F.3d 693 (10th Cir. 1997). Read More...

"Pursuant to Rhode Island Drunk Driving, DWI and DUI procedures, a driver is entitled to refuse to take a chemical test upon the request of law enforcement."

Pursuant to Rhode Island Drunk Driving, DWI and DUI procedures, a driver is entitled to refuse to take a chemical test upon the request of law enforcement.  Of course, this almost always gives rise to a “refusal” charge being levied against the suspect. In Rhode Island, a criminal defense attorney will often times utilize this refusal charge as leverage to obtain a dismissal in the criminal DUI matter.  In light of the fact that a refusal charge is civil in nature as opposed to criminal, it is often a more favorable result to admit to the refusal charge in consideration of the criminal charge being dismissed.  This practice has reached customary status among Judges and prosecutors across Rhode Island.

This blog entry also discusses the application of chemical tests to suspects that are unconscious or in such a medical state that the test is administered for purposes of medical treatment, rather than strictly for law enforcement purposes.

All fifty states and the District of Columbia have enacted statutes authorizing the admission in evidence of the results of chemical intoxication tests. These statutes are commonly referred to as "implied consent laws"; they generally declare that driving is a privilege subject to state licensing, with one of the conditions for obtaining a license that the driver submit to a test for intoxication on request. The police must have probable cause to request a chemical intoxication test. Because of differences in language among the state statutes, it is necessary for counsel to consult his state's statute and to refer to supportive case decisions to ascertain the full rights of his client respecting submission to these tests.

Differences in statutory provisions include such matters as sanction or the lack of sanction for refusal to submit to a test, admissibility as evidence of the fact of refusal to submit to test, the type or types of tests that can be made, whether the police or the defendant can choose the type of test to be administered, the qualifications of the persons who give or supervise the tests, the predicate that must be laid for the introduction of results of the tests, whether the defendant is entitled to his own independent test in addition to the one administered by the police, and whether a dead, unconscious, or disabled person may be tested without permission. Implied consent statutes ordinarily do permit the person tested to have a physician of his own choice administer a chemical intoxication test in addition to the one administered at the direction of the police.

The refusal of a motorist to submit to a chemical intoxication test generally constitutes grounds, under implied consent statutes, for the suspension or revocation of his driver's license. In most states, acquittal of the charge of driving while intoxicated does not preclude revocation or suspension of the motorist's license for refusal to submit to the test. However, the motorist generally has a right to a hearing on the question of the reasonableness of his refusal to submit to the test before his license may be revoked or suspended. Currently, the States of Texas, Wisconsin, Mississippi, and North Carolina do not penalize the driver for refusing to submit to the test if a driving while intoxicated case is dismissed or there was a finding of not guilty.  Read More...

"Rhode Island DWI or DUI charge usually falls into one of two categories"

A Rhode Island DUI or DWI charge is defended against differently depending on whether a suspect agreed to take the chemical test or whether they refused.  Once a suspect has agreed to take the test, and performs above the requisite blood alcohol level for intoxication, a criminal defense attorney must focus on attacking the admissibility of the subject test.

One or more scientific tests presently are conducted in all jurisdictions on driving-while-intoxicated suspects for the purpose of (1) bolstering and corroborating police opinion testimony of intoxication and, (2) in those states that set presumptive blood-alcohol intoxication levels, to demonstrate that the defendant's blood-alcohol level exceeded the permissible.  Use of evidence of blood-alcohol concentration helps standardize the opinions of experts and minimizes reliance on the traditional evidence of intoxication on which opinions can vary so widely. Where a scientific test has been made on the defendant, it often is the main weapon of the prosecution, with all other evidence being used to corroborate the test results.

There are four basic scientific tests which may be conducted to determine the degree of intoxication: blood, urine, breath, and saliva tests. The results of urine, saliva, and breath tests for alcohol must be converted into a blood-alcohol reading in order to be useful in determining whether the subject was intoxicated. Read More...

"Not only are driving under the influence arrests more plentiful, they are becoming more difficult to effectively defend."

Not only are driving under the influence arrests more plentiful, they are becoming more difficult to effectively defend.  Within the last few years, many of the once famous "loopholes" have been tightened in an effort to successfully prosecute DUI suspects.  Rhode Island's Pimental case stands for the proposition that sobriety checkpoints are violative of the Rhode Island Constitution; however, even well established case law such as this will likely change in the years to come.  With a legislature that is more and more educated about drunk driving statistics and a Supreme Court that is generally more conservative in composition than those of the past, DUI laws will inevitably evolve to obviate legal arguments that once existed.  As this happens, Rhode Island Criminal Defense Lawyers will need to become more vigilant about analyzing current laws, regulations and cases that impact the legal and constitutional rights of their clients.
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Drunken driving accidents, arrests plentiful in R.I.