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Florida Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Penalties

The state of Florida sees more than 100 million tourists each year. In 2018, the state of Florida reported more than 126 million tourists. In 2019, more than 68 million tourists had visited Florida between January and June. Whether tourists are coming to fish, relax on the beach, attend sporting events, or explore the Everglades, among other options, many of these tourists are likely to take advantage of Florida’s waters and coastline. Florida’s waters are inviting and can be a source of fun for all ages.

However, water activities, such as swimming, scuba diving, boating, and water skiing, among others, have inherent risks. Boating is a particularly popular activity, and Florida is home to thousands of boats that vary in type and size. Some boats are for racing, some are for fishing, and others are for strolling. While boating can be fun, the activity can also open the door to potential criminal liability.

Florida law enforcement officials, including officers from Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), regulate Florida’s boating laws. Both boat operators and passengers may not realize how heavily Florida’s boating laws are regulated. It is not uncommon to be stopped by law enforcement officials while boating and being asked to submit to a blood-alcohol test or field sobriety test. If a person believed to be operating a boat in Florida’s waters is under the influence of alcohol (above the legal limit of 0.08%), this person may face boating under the influence (BUI) charges.

Facing a BUI charge in Florida can be scary, and the outcome may feel uncertain. Because of the serious consequences associated with BUI penalties under Florida law, you should act quickly to speak with a Florida BUI Defense Lawyer if you are facing BUI charges. The Florida BUI Defense Lawyers of Musca Law have a reputation for providing superior legal representation to clients accused of a variety of crimes, including BUIs. To find out how our nationally-recognized legal team can help you, contact Musca Law today by calling (888) 484-5057. We are available 24/7 to meet the needs of clients throughout Florida.

Florida BUI Laws

Florida’s BUI laws are strictly enforced, and the penalties resulting from a conviction can be life-changing. Pursuant to Florida Statute Section 327.35(1), a person can be convicted of BUI if he or she operates a boat or other vessel within the state of Florida and does so while intoxicated. For purposes of Florida’s BUI laws, intoxication means one or more of the following:

  • Under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol “to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired;”
  • A breath-alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more; or
  • A blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more.

Florida’s BUI statute indicates that a person may be considered intoxicated even if his or her blood-alcohol content (BAC) is below the legal limit. As such, law enforcement officers have the discretion to determine whether a person is exhibiting signs of intoxication such that his or her “normal faculties are impaired.” The threshold for facing a potential BUI charge in Florida is fairly low, given the broad definition of “intoxication.” Therefore, whether a person is a resident, a college student from out of state, a person visiting a family member, or a tourist, the risk of facing a BUI charge is high. A small amount of alcohol or drugs could rise to the level of intoxication under Florida law – even with a BAC reading below the state’s legal limit of 0.08.

Florida BUI Charges and Penalties

The penalties for any BUI charge under Florida law can be harsh, but multiple BUIs can lead to serious felonies and guaranteed jail time. Sometimes the harshest penalties are not the jail time or fines, but the probation and tarnished record that can make it difficult to obtain employment, rent a home or apartment, or attend college. BUIs should be taken very seriously, and anyone facing a BUI charge should expect the prosecution to pursue the case in court aggressively.

The varying degrees of BUIs in Florida along with their penalties include the following:

  • First BUI Offense – A person convicted of BUI for the first time in Florida faces a misdemeanor that results in jail time of up to six (6) months and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Second BUI Offense – A person convicted of BUI for the second time in Florida faces a misdemeanor that results in jail time of up to nine (9) months and a fine of up to $2,000.
  • Third BUI Offense Within Ten Years – A person convicted of BUI for the third time in Florida within ten years faces a third-degree felony that results in jail time of up to five (5) years and a fine of up to $5,000.
  • Third BUI Offense More Than Ten Years After Prior Offense – A person convicted of BUI for the third time in Florida more than ten years after a prior BUI conviction faces a misdemeanor that results in jail time of up to one (1) year and a fine between $2,000 and $5,000.

Additional Penalties – Probation and Mandatory Counseling/Treatment

All individuals convicted of BUI in Florida – whether the BUI is a first, second, third, or subsequent offense – will be on probation for up to one year for each offense. The terms of probation include monthly reporting, completion of community service, and completion of drug and alcohol counseling. The probationary period may be longer for repeat BUI convictions. Without the help of a qualified Florida BUI Defense Lawyer, many individuals reach the worst possible outcome. While an experienced attorney cannot guarantee a certain outcome, an experienced attorney can certainly use all legal avenues to fight for a client’s rights and interests in the courtroom.

Florida Aggravated BUI Charges and Penalties

BUIs in Florida can become “aggravated” in certain cases when the conduct in question is deemed more severe or dangerous. If, for example, a person suspected of BUI has a BAC of .15 or greater, he or she could be facing aggravated BUI charges. Moreover, if a person suspected of BUI has a prior conviction of driving under the influence (DUI) and/or another drug-related conviction, he or she could face aggravated BUI charges. Additional circumstances in which aggravated BUI charges may be brought in Florida include the following:

  • A BUI incident resulting in an accident that caused property damage;
  • A BUI incident resulting in an accident that caused bodily injury or death to another person; and
  • A BUI incident involving a minor (an individual under the age of eighteen) present on the boat or vessel at the time of the incident.

The term “aggravated” simply means that a BUI incident involves “aggravating” factors that can enhance the severity of the crime, and therefore, the severity of penalties.

Penalties for Aggravated BUIs Involving Accidents, Injuries, and Death

Under Florida law, a BUI-related accident that results in property damage is a first-degree misdemeanor, which could lead to a one-year jail sentence and a fine of $1,000. A BUI that involves bodily injury is deemed a third-degree felony, which could lead to jail time of up to five (5) years and a fine of up to $5,000.

A BUI that involves the death of another person is considered BUI manslaughter, a second-degree felony that could lead to jail time of up to fifteen (15) years and a fine of up to $10,000. Moreover, if a person suspected of BUI leaves the scene of a boating accident instead of rendering aid to injured victims, the person could face a first-degree felony, which could lead to jail time of up to thirty (30) years and a fine of up to $10,000.

Florida Prosecutors Must Prove All Elements of a BUI Offense to Seek Conviction

Having an understanding of Florida BUI laws and penalties is important for anyone wishing to operate and/or be a passenger on a boat or vessel in the state of Florida. However, it is equally important to have a solid understanding of what the prosecution needs to prove to seek conviction of a person facing BUI charges. Per Florida law, prosecutors must prove that a person suspected of BUI was “operating” the boat or vessel at the time the boat was stopped and/or at the time of a BUI-related incident, such as an accident.

Determining who was “operating” a boat or vessel at the time of a BUI-related stop or incident can be a point of contention in a Florida BUI case. It may not be initially clear who was operating the boat or vessel at issue in a BUI case. Like the determination of whether a person is intoxicated for purposes of Florida’s BUI laws, determining who was operating a boat or vessel may be open to a law enforcement officer’s discretion.

For example, if a boat or vessel is stopped by a law enforcement official on the water, and it is not obvious who was operating the boat or vessel, an officer may choose to accuse the person who either looks the most intoxicated, the person who looks to be old enough to operate the boat or vessel, or is a person who looks to be the owner of the boat or vessel. When Florida law enforcement officials have such broad discretion, the possibilities for how they reach certain conclusions are endless.

Whatever the reasons may be to suspect a particular person of being the operator of a boat or vessel in a BUI incident, the person facing suspicion needs to have strong legal counsel to raise the proper defenses in court. Individuals are falsely accused of crimes all the time, and with the right attorney, falsely accused individuals have a better chance to fight to have criminal charges dismissed based on a lack of evidence. A Florida BUI Defense Attorney will evaluate all aspects of a BUI case to show how the prosecution has made missteps. Even one misstep may lead to the dismissal of criminal charges.

In addition to seeking dismissal of BUI charges that lack sufficient evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that an accused person is guilty, a superior Florida BUI Defense Lawyer will determine whether any defenses can be raised on constitutional grounds. Such grounds include, among others, (1) the failure of a law enforcement officer to read an accused person his/her Miranda rights at the time of arrest, eliciting incriminating testimony or information, and (2) the use of illegally obtained evidence to support criminal charges and subsequent conviction. Additional defenses to a Florida BUI charge may exist. However, without the help of a highly-skilled Florida BUI Defense Lawyer, an accused person may never get the chance to know that he or she could have successfully defended a BUI case in court.

The Penalties for Florida BUI Charges Begin Before Conviction

The standard in criminal matters is always that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, for a person to have due process in court, he or she must first be arrested and charged with a crime. If a person is arrested on suspicion of BUI in Florida, he or she will be detained for a certain period, although this cannot be indefinite. Under Florida law, a person suspected of BUI must be released from jail if ONE of the following happens:

  • It has been at least eight (8) hours from the time of arrest for suspected BUI;
  • The person arrested for suspected BUI has regained his/her normal faculties; or
  • The person arrested for suspected BUI has a BAC of 0.05% or less.

Being detained in jail can feel like the penalties have happened before a person gets a chance to fight criminal charges. If, for example, a person arrested on suspicion of BUI was not operating the boat or vessel at issue, he or she is being punished and forced to remain in jail for a crime he or she did not commit. BUI offenses are all different, given how many different scenarios exist in Florida waters. While it may be difficult to reach anyone after being arrested, a person who can call someone should immediately call a Florida BUI Defense Lawyer who can promptly address the situation.

Florida Law Enforcement Officials Routinely Exercise Wide Discretion in BUI Matters

All boaters must subject themselves and their boats or vessels to random “safety checks.” While such safety checks may lead to nothing more than just that – safety checks – some safety checks lead to BUI and other criminal charges. If an officer smells alcohol, he or she may assume that whoever is operating the boat or vessel is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Even with witnesses present, a BUI case may be an officer’s word versus the accused person’s word. A law enforcement officer’s discretion enables him or her to reach conclusions that may not be accurate. As such, many Florida BUI cases are defensible, but many cases are not successfully defended without the right Florida BUI Defense Lawyer.

Avoid the Harsh Penalties of Conviction – Successfully Defending a Florida BUI Case

Florida prosecutors will never let up when pursuing BUI cases. While it is understandable that Florida law enforcement officials are seeking to keep Florida waters safe, many individuals fall victim to BUI charges when they are not the true culprit. Moreover, even if a person is operating a boat or vessel while under the influence, he or she may be below the legal limit but still gets arrested because the law enforcement officer “believes” the person’s mental faculties are impaired – when they are not.

The first step to successfully defending a Florida BUI case is reaching out to an attorney. A person arrested on suspicion of BUI should either use his/her first phone call to speak with an attorney or speak with a loved one who can reach out to an attorney. Moving forward in a BUI case without contacting an attorney immediately after an arrest can compromise the accused person’s rights. Nobody should risk jail time, fines, a ruined reputation, and other limitations on legal rights because of a BUI incident. With the assistance of the right attorney, many individuals facing Florida BUI charges can reach a conclusion that avoids harsh penalties.

Contact the Florida BUI Defense Lawyers of Musca Law Today

Do not take a BUI charge lightly in Florida. If you or a loved one has been charged with BUI, you must act quickly to seek the advice and guidance of a qualified and reputable Florida Defense Lawyer. At Musca Law, we have offices throughout the state and can meet the needs of numerous clients facing BUI charges and other crimes in this state. Our nationally-recognized trial lawyers know what to expect from aggressive prosecutors. Your rights are on the line, and you should not move forward without discussing your situation with a legal professional. To find out how Musca Law can help you, contact our office today by calling (888) 484-5057. Our legal team is available 24/7 to speak with you about your legal needs.

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