Defense Attorneys for BUI Charges in Gainesville, Florida
Floridians own more boats than residents of any other state in the country. The Sunshine State has the waterways and weather to facilitate plenty of water-related recreational activities. There are twelve million or more registered boats across the country, and in every state, it is illegal to operate one of these vessels while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
As a recreational activity, boating lends itself to social activities and events. People often head out on the water with alcoholic beverages. In some cases, these boaters may be putting themselves at risk of facing serious criminal charges. Boating under the influence is a significant crime in Florida, and officers will pursue charges against those suspected of doing so. For boaters who are facing these charges, there are options for defense, and it is vital that they work with a seasoned BUI defense attorney to aggressively protect themselves. A Gainesville BUI Defense Attorney can ensure that the defendant is treated fairly and understands the nature of the charges and potential consequences. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Musca Law are ready to develop a defense strategy to fight the charges against our clients.
Boating Under the Influence as Defined in Florida Statutory Law
The state of Florida makes it illegal for anyone to operate a boat or any similar type of vessel while that individual is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A person will be considered to have violated this law if:
- They are operating a boat while the presence of alcohol and/or drugs in their system makes them incapable of safely operating the vessel;
- The person operating the boat has a blood alcohol level of .08 percent alcohol per volume (the same level, which is considered illegal for drivers in every state).
If a person is arrested and found to have met these factors, then that individual may be charged and convicted of boating under the influence.
Those Found Guilty Face Harsh Penalties
The penalties and consequences for boating under the influence are outlined in Florida Statutes Section 327.35(2). Those who violate the law will be subject to fines and potential prison time.
In a first conviction for boating under the influence, the court can issue a fine of $500 to $1,000 and sentence the individual for a maximum of six months in prison.
The fines and prison time increase with subsequent convictions. In the event of a second conviction, the fine can be $1,000 to $2,000, and the maximum prison term increases to up to nine months.
For a third conviction, the defendant may be facing a maximum of five years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine if the BUI occurs within ten years of another earlier conviction. For those whose last conviction was more than one decade ago, the prison time will be capped at twelve months, and the fine will range from $2,000 to $5,000.
Those individuals who are convicted of BUI four or more times will face charges for a third-degree felony, which will come with fines between $2,000 and $5,000 and a maximum of five years in prison.
In addition to repeat offenses, a person’s penalties may be increased based on the circumstances of the boating incident. Injuries, deaths, or boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs with minors on board can lead to additional consequences.
Penalties for BUIs When Someone Gets Hurt
Florida law dictates that when a person commits a BUI that leads to another person sustaining injuries or dying, the penalties will be more severe.
A first-time offender who causes property damage or harms another person can face misdemeanor charges in the first degree. A conviction can result in one year in prison and fines of up to $1,000.
When a BUI incident leads to severe injuries, the crime is upgraded to a third-degree felony. The sentence for those convicted can include up to five years in prison and fines of at most $5,000.
In the most serious cases, those that result in a fatality, the crime becomes a second-degree felony, and the maximum sentence if fifteen years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
In the event that the operator of a boat was under the influence, and caused a fatal accident, but failed to stop and render aid, he or she can face charges for a first-degree felony. The sentencing for BUI Manslaughter involving a boater who flees the scene includes a term of imprisonment of up to 30 years and fines of $10,000. In order to face such charges, the suspect does not have to be aware of someone having been injured or killed, but only must have been aware (or should have been aware) that a crash occurred, and then fled.
When Minors are Present
Florida law includes heightened consequences for those who operate a vessel while impaired when individuals under the age of eighteen are on board. These enhanced penalties will include:
- Fines of $1,000 to $2,000 and potential prison sentences up to nine months on a first-time offense.
- Fines of $2000 to $4,000 and a maximum prison sentence of up to twelve months for a second offense; and
- Heightened penalties, including a minimum fine of $4,000 on a third or additional offense.
With a BUI of .15 or More
When a person is boating under the influence and has a blood-alcohol level of .15 percent alcohol per volume or more, the penalties will be increased. The consequences for an elevated BAC match those listed above for boating while minors are present.
Underage Boating Under the Influence
When minors are operating a boat under the influence of alcohol, the requisite BAC is not .08 percent, but .02 percent alcohol per volume. The law is designed to deter any underage individuals from operating a vessel when they have any measurable amount of alcohol in their systems.
Those convicted of a BUI while under 21 years of age must perform 50 hours of public service. These individuals must also complete an online or in-person boating education class, and an additional four-hour course designed exclusively for violators of this law. Until each requirement is met, the person will not be able to operate any vessel.
If a person under the age of 21 refuses to agree to a breathalyzer test, that person will have to complete 50 hours of public service. Until the public service hours are completed, that individual may not operate a vessel.
Additional Penalties Under Florida Law
There are certain mandatory penalties that a court must impose on a person who commits a BUI. Some additional consequences include the following:
Individuals convicted of their first BUI will face up to twelve months of probation and must face a sentence, including the completion of community service totaling at least 50 hours.
In the event of a second BUI that occurs within five years of a previous BUI, the court must impose a minimum prison sentence of ten days. While the sentence can be divided, at least 48 hours of the term must be served consecutively.
When a person commits a third or more BUI within a decade of at least one of the other BUIs, the court is required to sentence that person to at least 30 days in prison, at least 48 hours of that term must be served consecutively.
The vessel involved in the incident will be impounded, at least temporarily.
Substance Abuse Courses and Programs
When a person commits a BUI, the court is directed to order that the person undergo a treatment program for substance abuse. The program will, at times, include an evaluation of that individual’s substance use or abuse habits. Some individuals will be required to complete intensive treatment programs in residential facilities. When these programs are ordered, the convicted individual will be required to pay for the treatment.
Investigations of BUI Suspects
Most BUI investigations occur after a law enforcement officer witnesses a person operating a boat in a way that suggests to that officer that the person is under the influence. The boat may be traveling in an erratic or dangerous manner, leading to the investigator believing that the person in control of the vessel might be impaired.
Sometimes a witness might call law enforcement to report a person after seeing the boat travel in an alarming way. Officers would then be permitted to stop the identified vessel.
The officers who stop the vessel may then request that the suspect submits to a breathalyzer test. In the event that the individual agrees to the test and the results indicate a BAC of .08 percent or higher, the officers will place that person under arrest. If the person refuses, the officer may direct the individual to complete field sobriety tests, and based on those results and the observations that the officer makes at the scene; police may file charges against that person.
Operating a Vessel
Passengers may be under the influence on a vessel and not face any consequences. In order to be charged with a BUI, the individual must be operating the boat in question. Boats are different than cars and other vehicles because someone sitting in a boat can face charges even if they are not actively driving the vessel. The definition of operating a vessel includes anyone in charge of, actually controlling, or in command of a vessel. If the individual is merely steering a boat while another vessel is towing that boat, this is enough for the person to be considered an operator of the vessel.
Mandatory Time in Custody
Florida law requires that a person arrested for BUI be held for a period of time following the arrest. Officers will not release the suspect until:
- The person is no longer exhibiting the effects of the drug or alcohol, and have regained their normal mental faculties;
- The person submits to a breathalyzer test, and the results indicate that his or her BAC is below .05 percent alcohol per volume; or
- The person has been in custody for eight hours since the time which he or she was initially taken into custody.
The police will release the individual after any one of these requirements is met.
Ways to Defend Against the Charges
When a person is charged with a crime, the state is subject to strict requirements and standards in order to convict that person of the alleged crime. In the case of BUI charges, there are numerous ways to fight the allegations. Some common defenses are as follows:
Investigators improperly performed the tests: Breathalyzers and other tests require the use of delicate and accurately calibrated equipment. If these tests are not properly performed or any of the requisite steps are skipped, the results can be called into question.
Improper questioning: Every defendant has certain rights when it comes to being interrogated by the police. If officers question the suspect after arresting that person and before reading the Miranda warnings, the statements made can become inadmissible.
Officer’s observations were questionable: If the police did not perform breathalyzer or blood tests, the charges could be based on the observations made at the scene. There are plenty of conditions that may cause a person to appear intoxicated when they are, in fact, not under the influence.
The best defenses for a BUI case will be heavily dependent on the specific facts. It is important for an experienced attorney to help develop the best possible legal defense.
The FAQ for BUI Cases
Individuals charged with committing a BUI likely have plenty of questions about what this means and what the potential consequences will be of those charges. Here are some of the commonly asked questions clients have:
Will a BUI impact my ability to drive?
A conviction for a BUI will not impact a person’s driver’s license. This conviction will impact your ability to legally operate a boat.
What happens if I refuse the breathalyzer?
When a person refuses to submit to a breathalyzer, the investigating officer will use this fact as evidence that the person is under the influence. This might lead to an arrest for BUI, and an additional investigation.
If I am a suspect in a BUI case, will I go to jail?
If officers believe that they have enough evidence that a person committed a BUI, then they will arrest that person. The suspect will then be kept in police custody for up to eight hours until their BAC is less than .05 percent alcohol by volume, or until they are no longer impaired by drugs or alcohol in their system.
What is considered a boat or a vessel for the purposes of the BUI law in Florida?
If a craft has the ability to transport people on bodies of water, then it will be considered a boat or vessel pursuant to the Florida BUI statute. While seaplanes are excluded from the statute, any other craft will likely qualify.
What is I am a passenger who is impaired?
If you are on a vessel, but in no way operating that boat, then you cannot be convicted of a BUI in Florida. The law does not apply to passengers, and investigators must have evidence that you were operating the vessel based on the definitions listed in the statute.
What if I was not controlling or operating the vessel when officers stopped the boat?
The nature of boating means that operating a vessel is different from operating a car or other motor vehicle. The law does not require that the suspect be seated or standing at the wheel at the time of the stop. If the individual is in command or control of the vessel, this is enough for the police to charge the person for a BUI.
If a BUI a misdemeanor or a felony?
A BUI can be a misdemeanor or a felony based on the circumstances that led to the arrest. If a person is a repeat offender with numerous charges for BUIs or DUIs, heightened punishments might apply. When someone sustained severe injuries or dies because of the BUI, this can result in felony charges even if the suspect has never been charged with any other crimes. It is important to understand whether your case involves aggravating circumstances that might subject you to harsher penalties.
Can I get a BUI for drug impairment?
BUIs do not just apply to alcohol use. A person might face penalties for a BUI if he or she was under the influence of a drug that impaired his or her ability to control a vessel safely. There are many substances that could lead to this impairment and, therefore, BUI charges.
Musca Law’s Alachua County BUI Attorneys Can Help
If you are facing charges for boating under the influence, our Gainesville criminal defense attorneys are standing by and ready to help. The consequences of these charges are severe and will impact a person’s life for years to come. It is important to ensure that your rights are protected and that every avenue for defending against the charges is explored.
Contact Musca Law to discuss your specific case. Call (888) 484-5057 to schedule a complimentary consultation and to learn how our experienced BUI attorneys can fight for you.