Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Defense Lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (FL)

BUI Charges, Laws and Penalties in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

In Florida, thousands of people own boats given the warm weather, seemingly endless sunshine, and numerous waterways throughout the state that support recreational activities. There are approximately twelve million registered boats across the nation, and in every state, it is not legal to operate a vessel while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

As a popular recreational activity, boating is associated with many events and social activities, which may involve alcohol or drug consumption. In other words, it is not uncommon for a boater and his or her passengers to drink alcohol while boating. In some circumstances, too much alcohol or drug consumption can mean that a boater puts himself or herself, plus any passengers, at risk for injury or death. Boating under the influence, or BUI, is a serious crime in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and law enforcement will seek charges against those who are accused of doing so.

For boaters who have been charged with BUI, a skilled Fort Lauderdale BUI defense attorney can help to develop the strongest defense strategy on your behalf. He or she can also ensure that a boater facing BUI charges is treated in a fair manner and understands the charges and possible consequences associated therewith. The experienced Fort Lauderdale BUI defense lawyers at Musca Law are ready to help defend you against your BUI charges. Contact Musca Law today to learn more about your legal rights and options.

BUI Under Florida Law

It is illegal in Florida to operate a boat or some other type of watercraft if under the influence of alcohol or drugs. An individual will be deemed in violation of Florida’s BUI laws if:

  • He or she has alcohol or drugs in his or her system while operating a boat, which impairs him or her ability to safely operate a vessel; and
  • He or she is operating a boat with a blood alcohol level of 0.08%, which is the same level as operators of a motor vehicle.

If a person is placed under arrest and determined to meet these elements, then the person may face BUI charges, which are serious in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

BUI Charges are Associated with Severe Consequences in Broward County, Florida

Under Florida Statutes Section 327.35(2), those who violate Florida’s BUI laws may face serious penalties and consequences, which includes monetary fines and potential imprisonment for a certain period of time.

For those convicted of BUI for the first time, the court can impose a maximum prison sentence of six months as well as a monetary fine of up to $1,000.

For a second conviction, the maximum prison term is up to nine months and a monetary fine of up to $2,000.

For a third conviction, the offender may be imprisoned for up to five years and be forced to pay a $5,000 fine if the conviction occurred within a decade of another conviction. If the conviction occurred more than ten years ago, the prison term will be a maximum of twelve months, and the person will be forced to pay a monetary fine of up to $5,000.

If a person is convicted of BUI for four times or more will be charged with a third-degree felony, which is associated with a maximum of five years in jail and a monetary fine of up to $5,000.

Repeat offenses are not the only crimes associated with enhanced penalties. Those who are under the influence and cause injuries or death, or who have minors on board can face additional repercussions.

Punishment for BUIs Involving Property Damage or Physical Injury in Fort Lauderdale

Florida law provides that when an individual is impaired while boating and causes another person to sustain injuries or death, the penalties will be enhanced.

A first-time offender who operates a boat while impaired and causes minor bodily injury or property damage will be charged with a misdemeanor in the first degree. If a person is convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor, he or she can face a one year prison term and a monetary fine of up to $1,000.

When a BUI involves serious injuries, the offense becomes a third-degree felony, which is associated with a maximum prison sentence of five years and a monetary fine of up to $5,000.

If a fatality occurs involving BUI, also known as BUI manslaughter, it is charged as a second-degree felony, which carries with it a maximum prison sentence of fifteen years and a monetary fine of $10,000.

In the event that a boater is under the influence and causes an accident involving death, as well as chooses to flee the scene, he or she will be charged with a felony in the first degree. This is associated with a 30-year term of imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. The suspect does not need to know that a person was injured or killed, but must be aware, or should have been aware, that a crash happened, and then fled the scene.

When those Under Eighteen are Onboard a Boat Operated by an Impaired Boater

Under Florida law, there are more severe repercussions for individuals who operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol when minors (those under the age of 18) are on board the vessel. These consequences are as follows:

  • A monetary fine of up to $2,000 and a term of imprisonment up to nine months for a first time offender;
  • A monetary fine of up to $4,000 and a term of imprisonment for up to twelve months for a second time offender; and
  • A monetary fine of up to $4,000 and a term of imprisonment for a certain period of time depending upon whether this is the offender’s third offense, or if there are more than three offenses.

A BUI Involving a Blood Alcohol Level of 0.15% or More

When an individual is boating while impaired and has a blood alcohol level of 0.15% or greater, the punishment will be enhanced. These repercussions are the same as those who are impaired with children present on board a vessel.

BUI and Underage Individuals

When a minor is impaired and operating a boat, the breath alcohol concentration amount is lower at 0.02% per volume. The reason why this amount is lower is to prevent minors from driving a boat while they have any amount of alcohol in their body.

Those who have been convicted of a BUI under the age of 21 will be required to undergo 50 hours of community service and may face imprisonment for a certain period of time. The underage offender will also be required to complete an in-person or online boating education course as well as a four hour class that is designated for those who violate the applicable law. Until these steps have been completed, the individual will not be allowed to operate any boat.

Further Repercussions of a DUI

There are additional penalties that a court may force a person convicted of BUI to undergo. These include the following:

  • Those who have been convicted of BUI for the first time will face a term of probation for up to twelve months and community service for 50 hours.
  • Those who have been convicted of a BUI for the second time within five years of a prior BUI, the court will sentence the offender to ten days in prison.
  • Those who have been convicted of a third BUI or more with ten years of at least one other BUI conviction will be sentenced to a prison term of at least 30 days.
  • The subject boat will also be impounded for a certain period of time.

Courses and Programs for Substance Abuse

When an individual is convicted of BUI, the court will order the individual to attend a substance abuse treatment program. The program may include an examination of a person’s substance abuse history and habits. The court may also order a person to complete a residential treatment program. Keep in mind that those ordered by the court to undergo treatment must pay for it themselves.

BUI Investigations

The majority of BUI investigations happen after an officer finds that an individual is operating a vessel in a manner that appears as if the boater is impaired by drugs or alcohol. The boat may be going at an excessive rate of speed or is being operated in a reckless or highly dangerous manner. This can lead the investigator to conduct a stop and investigation. Sometimes a witness may contact law enforcement to report that he or she has seen a vessel being operated in a hazardous or concerning way.

Once an officer stops the boat, he or she may then ask that the suspect take a portable breath test. In such event that the boater’s BAC is at 0.08% or greater, the officer has the authority to arrest him or her. If the boater refuses to take a breath test, he or she will likely be asked to submit to a field sobriety test. If the suspect fails the test, he or she can be placed under arrest and charged with BUI.

The “Operation” of a Boat under Florida Law

Passengers aboard a boat may be impaired and not face BUI charges. To be charged with BUI, a person must operate the boat in question. “Operating” a boat does not necessarily mean that the individual must be behind the wheel. The definition of operation includes a person who is controlling or commanding a boat. A BUI may even be possible if a person is steering a boat while it is being towed.

The Release of a Suspect from Prison after Initially Being Arrested

Under Florida law, an individual who is placed under arrest for BUI must be detained after one’s initial arrest until at least one of the following elements have been satisfied:

  • The individual is no longer showing signs of impairment and has regained his or her faculties;
  • The person’s BAC is less than 0.05% alcohol per volume; or
  • The person has been detained for at least eight hours.

Defenses to BUI

When an individual is facing BUI charges, the State of Florida is subject to strict requirements in order to seek a conviction of the alleged offense. In the case where BUI charges are filed, there are several defenses that may be available, which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The investigation did not properly perform the tests. Tests such as Breathalyzers must be run by machinery that is accurately calibrated. If they are not performed properly or any of the required steps are missed, the results can be challenged.
  • The observations of the officer were questionable. If law enforcement did not perform a breath or order a blood test, the charges could be based upon what they were able to observe at the scene. There are several ways in which a person can appear to be impaired when they actually were not.

The FAQ for BUI Cases

Those facing BUI charges typically have a lot of questions about the implications. The most common questions that prospective and current clients ask are as follows:

If I get a BUI, will I lose my driver’s license?

No. A BUI conviction does not impede your ability to operate a motor vehicle. It only affects your ability to operate a vessel.

If I refuse to take a breathalyzer test, what will happen?

If a suspect does not submit to a breathalyzer test, this can be used as evidence that the boater is impaired. This could result in an arrest and further investigation.

If I am suspected of driving while impaired, will I be arrested?

If law enforcement finds enough evidence that a person is operating a boat while impaired, then that individual will be arrested and kept in custody for up to eight hours, until their BAC is less than 0.05%, or until such time that they are no longer under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

What type of watercraft applies to BUI?

Any vessel that has the ability to transport people via waterway is a boat or vessel that is subject to Florida BUI laws. Seaplanes are not considered vessels under Florida law.

Will a passenger be arrested if he or she is under the influence of drugs or alcohol?

If you are not operating a boat, you will not be charged with BUI if you are impaired by drugs or alcohol. The only way you will face BUI charges is if you are deemed an operator by law enforcement.

If a BUI a felony or misdemeanor offense?

A BUI can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor based upon the facts and circumstances of each case. If a person has numerous BUI convictions, enhanced penalties may apply. If a person is injured or dies involving a BUI, them felony charges will be pursued by law enforcement. If a person just has a BUI not involving property damage, injury or death, then the crime will be charged as a misdemeanor.

I am being accused of being impaired by drugs while operating a boat. Why am I getting charged with a BUI?

A BUI does not only apply to alcohol consumption. A boater can be charged with a BUI involving drug impairment even if he or she was not drinking alcohol.

Musca Law’s Fort Lauderdale BUI Defense Lawyers are Ready to Help you Now

If you are facing charges for boating under the influence, our Fort Lauderdale defense attorneys are ready to help you launch the strongest defense case possible. The repercussions of a BUI charge can negatively impact a person’s life for years to come. That is why it is critical that you contact a seasoned Fort Lauderdale BUI defense attorney who can help you fight for your legal rights and interests.

Contact Musca Law to discuss the facts and circumstances of your case. Call (888) 484-5057 to schedule a complimentary consultation and to learn how our experienced Fort Lauderdale BUI defense lawyers can fight for you.

Get your case started by calling us at (888) 484-5057 today!