Boating Under the Influence Defense Lawyer in Daytona Beach, Florida

BUI Charges in Daytona Beach, Florida

Florida and boating go hand-in-hand. With a state that is a peninsula abutted by the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, along with its many lakes, rivers, and the Everglades, boating is an essential element of Florida’s economy. While boating is relaxing and fun, it can also be dangerous when alcohol or drugs are involved. BUI, or boating under the influence, is a serious criminal offense in the State of Florida. According to the United States Coast Guard, about sixteen percent of boating-related deaths occur when someone is consuming alcohol, which makes alcohol the primary contributor to deadly recreational boating accidents. Boat operators who drink alcohol or take drugs tend to take risks and lower their guard. Undoubtedly, the safe operation and navigation of a boat requires the operator to be alert given the fact that he or she is primarily responsible for the safety of those on board.

BUI is highly dangerous given all of the variables that a boater must consider, including wind, wave height, darkness, light, submerged hazards such as rocks and trees, and the depth of the water. Boaters must also keep in mind that there are certain environmental factors that come to play, including fatigue, wind exposure, and sun exposure, all of which can affect a boat operator. Adding alcohol to the mix is a recipe for disaster for what was intended to be a good time.

The effects of alcohol do not discriminate between those who operate a boat and those who operate a motor vehicle. Alcohol consumption reduces concentration, impairs judgment, slows reflexes, and diminishes an operators’s ability to perceive through sight and sound. Specifically, a boater who is under the influence may have trouble understanding the speed at which he or she is going, the speed of other vessels in the water, as well as the distance between objects, all of which are critical to boating in a safe manner.

Florida’s BUI Statute

Under Florida Statutes Section §327.35, there are certain penalties associated with boating under the influence. Specifically, a boat operator who is guilty of BUI when:

  • The operator of a boat has impaired faculties due to the consumption of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two, and is thereby unable to safely operate a vehicle;
  • The operator of a boat has a blood alcohol level of 0.08 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood; or
  • The boat operator has a breath alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.

The government must establish one of the three elements of BUI listed above beyond a reasonable doubt in order to successfully convict an accused of BUI. Law enforcement has the right to stop a boater who appears to be impaired. Specifically, an officer may request that a boater submit to a field sobriety test and a portable breath test.

BUI Penalties in Daytona Beach, Florida

The penalties associated with a BUI vary depending upon the circumstances of the incident. The punishment for a first BUI conviction in Florida is associated with a prison sentence of up to six months in jail, a monetary fine between $500 and $1000, and a probationary period not to exceed one year. In addition, the offender must perform fifty hours of community service.

The possible penalties of a BUI become enhanced with each conviction. Specifically, a second BUI conviction is associated with a $1000 to $2000 fine and a maximum prison sentence of nine months. The offender must face a probationary period as well. If the previous conviction occurred with the preceding five years, then the offender must be imprisoned for a minimum of ten days.

Upon a third BUI conviction, when one of the convictions happens within the preceding ten years, the individual will be charged with a third-degree felony. A third-degree felony is associated with a jail sentence of up to five years as well as a monetary fine of up to $5000. If the offense was committed outside of the ten year lookback period, then it is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries with it a prison term of up to one year and a monetary fine ranging from $2000 to $5000. If a previous offense occurred within the preceding ten years, then the offender will be placed in jail for at least 30 days.

Following a fourth or subsequent offense, the accused will face a third-degree felony charge, regardless of when the previous conviction occurred, a third-degree felony conviction carries with it a prison term of up to five years and a monetary fine ranging between $2000 and $5000.

Under Florida’s BUI law, the judge is required to issue an impound order of the boat that the offender operated when he or she was arrested for BUI. Moreover, the convicted offender must submit to a substance abuse program, the treatment of which could include both outpatient and inpatient treatment. As with all court-ordered programs, the offender must bear the burden of paying for said treatment.

Florida law does not limit previous offenses to BUI-related offenses. Specifically, the prosecution can seek enhanced penalties for BUI when an individual has been previously convicted of DUI, DUI manslaughter, and like offenses. Moreover, prosecutors can also seek enhanced penalties if a person has been convicted of BUI or DUI in other states.

BUI Boating Accidents in Daytona Beach, Florida

Even boating accidents that are minor can prove fatal. Accidents that occur at low speeds could cause a boat to capsize and eject all passengers on board. People who have been drinking or injured in the accident may not be able to swim to safety. Some individuals do not wear life jackets when boating. They often believe that they would have the ability to grab a life jacket in the event of an emergency. Sadly, people drown because they are not wearing an approved flotation device while boating.

Law enforcement can charge a boat operator with BUI if the officer believes that he or she has probable cause to suspect that the operator was impaired, and due to said impairment, caused or contributed to an accident. An individual who is facing a BUI accusation that involved an accident resulting in damage to property or personal injury will be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. The maximum penalty associated with a first-degree misdemeanor in Daytona Beach is one year in jail and a monetary fine of $1000. The penalties become increasingly harsh as the severity of the offense increases.

If a BUI involves serious bodily injury, the crime will be charged as a third-degree felony. In Florida, a person convicted of BUI involving serious bodily injury could be sentenced to prison for up to five years and pay monetary fines of up to $5000.

If someone dies as a result of a BUI, then the accused will be charged with a second-degree felony, also known as BUI manslaughter. BUI manslaughter is associated with a penalty of up to fifteen years in jail and a $10,000 monetary fine.

Operators of a boat could be charged with a first-degree felony in the event that he or she leaves the scene of the accident. Specifically, the boat operator will face first-degree felony charges if he knew or should have known that an accident occurred. Florida’s BUI law does not require that the prosecution establish that the operator of the boat knew that someone perished or sustained serious injuries to be convicted of first-degree BUI.

Aggravated BUI in Daytona Beach, Florida

The prosecution can pursue harsher BUI-related penalties under certain circumstances. When a boater’s breath or blood test results reach 0.15% BAC or he or she was intoxicated with minors on board, the government can seek aggravated BUI charges.

An individual who is convicted of a first offense aggravated BUI may face a nine month prison sentence and be forced to pay a fine ranging from $1000 to $2000. A second offense conviction is punishable as a first-degree misdemeanor, which is associated with up to a one year prison sentence and a monetary fine ranging from $2000 to $4000.

What is “Operation” under Florida’s BUI Law?

In Florida, “operation” means to be at the helm of the craft or to be in command or charge of the navigation as well as the safety of the boat and its passengers. The operation could include having the responsibility over the vessel, even when it is being pushed, towed, or pulled by the power of another craft. This means that a boater does not necessarily have to be behind the wheel when facing a BUI. Accordingly, Florida law defines operator and operation to include the person who is in charge of the boat and not just the individual who is steering the boat.

The broad definition takes into consideration maritime traditions of having a captain who must be obeyed without question and is in charge of the ship, especially the safety of the ship and its crew, even if he or she is not steering.

Mandatory Arrest and Detention

Under Florida’s BUI law, no individual can be released from prison until eight hours have passed since the time of the arrest, the individual’s blood alcohol concentration or breath alcohol concentration have dropped below 0.05% grams of alcohol found in 210 liters of breath or in 100 milliliters of blood, or the person’s normal human functions have returned following the metabolization of alcohol. The person must be released when he or she meets one of these criteria, no matter which one comes first.

Law Enforcement BUI Investigations

Law enforcement officers have greater latitude to stop boaters than motor vehicle operators. Specifically, law enforcement cannot stop a driver of a car upon a whim. The officer must have a reason to stop the individual that satisfies constitutional safeguards. The standard of proof that an officer needs to stop an automobile is a “reasonable suspicion based on specific and articulable facts.” Otherwise stated, the officer must have some facts which he or she could describe if asked why he or she pulled the vehicle over.

This standard related to operators of motor vehicles is not high, however, it does afford the protection of the public from oppressive law enforcement actions. One of the most typical reasons for stopping a car is due to a traffic violation. If the officer can describe the nature of the violation, then he or she can pull the vehicle over and speak with the driver. The officer cannot keep the driver for an indefinite time period. Once the reason for the stop is complete, the officer must then release the individual and move on. The officer, however, need not ignore what he or she hears, smells, or feels during a stop. The officer’s perception, therefore, can justify further inquiry and investigation.

Boaters do not share the same protections as those who operate motor vehicles. In fact, an officer who is patrolling a waterway has the broad authority to stop a vessel and speak with its operator. Notwithstanding, an officer cannot stop the boater for an indefinite time period. The officer is limited to asking for the boater’s proof of identification, insurance, flotation devices, fire apprehension apparatuses, and sounding devices. Once the officer obtains satisfactory proof of the necessary safety measures, then the stop must end. However, the officer, just like in a motor vehicle stop, need not ignore what he or she perceives during a safety check.

Officers are not limited to just conducting safety checks of vessels. They could stop a boat for speeding, recklessness, or a violation of waterway regulations in order to start an investigation. If an officer notices evidence of alcohol consumption by an operator, he or she can investigate further. The officer could perceive the smell of alcohol coming from the breath of the operator, observe watery and bloodshot eyes, slurred and slow speech as well as confusion, all of which evince that a boat operator is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. The officer could also look around for evidence of drinking like empty beer cans on deck and in “plain view.” The investigating officer will also examine whether there are other signs of impairment, such as if an operator is combative, flippant, angry or cocky with police. Most assuredly, if the operator acts disrespectfully toward the police, then the police will find a reason to dig deeper.

If an officer is under the suspicion that an operator is impaired by drugs and/or alcohol, he or she could order the officer to perform field sobriety tests. The officer should request that a boater pull over to a safe location in order to perform these tests. Moreover, the officer can request that a boater take a breath test from a portable device. A reading of 0.08% or more gives the officer probable cause to arrest a boater for BUI. Refusing to take a breath test or field sobriety test can give the officer probable cause to arrest an operator.

BUI Defenses in Volusia County, Florida

The individual who is placed under arrest for BUI has certain rights. While the arresting officer may have had probable cause to effectuate an arrest, the individual accused of BUI is not automatically deemed guilty of the crime. A seasoned Daytona Beach BUI defense attorney will challenge the conclusions and observations of the arresting police officer under rigorous cross examination. Moreover, the skilled Daytona Beach BUI defense attorney will challenge the results of the breath and blood tests. The results of these tests are worthless if not conducted in a proper manner.

The boat operator under arrest has constitutionally-protected rights as well. A knowledgeable BUI defense lawyer will contest the officer’s assertions that the officer’s decision to stop the boat to suppress the observations, results of any conversations and conclusions drawn based on the evidence illegally obtained by the police. Winning a motion to suppress might result in a dismissal of the case or a reduction in charges.

Musca Law: Defending the Rights of Boaters in Daytona Beach, Florida

BUI charges are serious criminal offenses that could negatively affect your future. Do not trust your defense to merely any Daytona Beach defense lawyer. Call Musca Law’s Daytona Beach lawyers today at (888) 484-5057 to schedule a free consultation.

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