Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Defense Lawyers for Lakeland, Florida (FL)
BUI Charges, Laws and Penalties in Lakeland, Florida
People who live in Lakeland or who visit the area quickly understand how the city got its name. Lakeland is home to about 38 lakes and bodies of water. Many residents identify the location of their home by referencing the nearest lake. As such, lakes are an integral part of Lakeland, even though the bodies of water vary in size, they are all vital components of the geographical region.
Boating in Lakeland is an essential activity for many who live or work in the area. Some lakes are not large enough to boat on, but many others are large enough to accommodate pleasure boats for fishing, recreational boating, water skiing, and jet skiing as well. Of course, Lakeland is considered the Tampa Bay area, which provides plentiful opportunities to enjoy pleasure boating and fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
As a whole, boating is critically important to the state of Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission estimates that boating-related activities such as fishing, pleasure boating, wildlife viewing, hunting, and other activities contribute 300,000 jobs and $20 billion to the state’s economy each year. As a consequence, Florida’s law enforcement officers have a vested interest in patrolling the waters in Lakeland and across the state to ensure that everyone on the water is safe. The consequences would be dire to the regional economy if the area were reputed to be unsafe for boating and water activities.
The Dangers of Boating While Under the Influence
Florida law does not prohibit operating a boat and drinking alcohol entirely. Like driving a car, boating after having an alcoholic beverage is not a crime. The crime of boating while intoxicated arises when the operator of the vessel is under the influence or has a 0.08% BAC, as will be discussed more thoroughly below.
One need not consume an excessive amount of alcohol to reach a 0.08% BAC. The average person might not feel intoxicated when that person’s BAC reaches Florida’s legal limit. Boating after having alcohol or taking drugs is inherently dangerous, just like driving a car after having “one too many” is dangerous.
Alcohol is the most frequently cited reason for boating deaths in the United States. According to the United States Coast Guard, approximately sixteen percent of all boating fatalities that happen each year may be attributed to alcohol consumption.
Boating under the influence, or BUI for short, is dangerous for the same reasons driving a car drunk is harmful. When BUI, reaction times slow, the operator is more easily distracted, the ability to appreciate risk diminishes, and the operator’s ability to recognize speed diminishes as well. Alcohol consumption reduces spatial cognition, as well.
Boating introduces other environmental factors that can exacerbate the effects of alcohol on the body. The vibration of the boat’s motor, the crashing waves, wind, sun, all contribute to fatigue which enhances the powerful effects of alcohol on the body. Many people do not realize how much strain boating puts on the body even though the trip is supposed to be fun and relaxing.
Boaters can forget how dangerous being on the water is sober, never mind after having a couple of beers. Boating after taking alcohol might prevent the operator from observing fallen trees or sunken hazards, not appreciating rapidly-changing weather, or losing the ability to steer the boat accurately or judge the distance and speed of an approaching craft.
BUI Prosecutions in Lakeland, Florida (FL)
Under the authority prescribed by §327.35 of the 2019 version of the Florida Statutes, the state’s attorney for Lakeland, usually the prosecutor’s office in Polk County, can seek jail time, pricey fines, and onerous conditions of probation after a conviction for BUI. The prosecution has — and always will — the burden to prove the allegations of BUI beyond a reasonable doubt. The standard is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution for the State of Florida.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not some trite phrase legal scholars use to describe some idle theory. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt separates this country from all others. While stopping short of demanding absolute truth, proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the more stringent legal standard used in our country today.
The state’s attorney in Lakeland bears the burden to produce evidence and persuade the fact finder that alcohol, drugs, or both impaired the normal faculties of the operator of the boat, the operator of the boat had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 grams per 100 milliliters of blood or 0.08 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath as required by §327.35.
BUI Penalties in Lakeland, Florida
Section 327.35 also dictates the penalties a judge may impose upon a conviction for BUI in Lakeland. For a first offense, the judge may impose a maximum jail sentence of up to six months in the Polk County jail, along with a fine of $500.00 to $1,000.00. The sentencing judge will order the offender to participate in a probationary sentence not exceeding one year with an order to complete 50 hours of community service and to undergo all drug and alcohol treatment deemed necessary and appropriate by the probation officer.
The penalties for BUI increase with each new offense. A second offense conviction for BUI carries up to nine months in the county jail and a fine between $1,000.00 and $2,000.00. The judge must sentence the offender to at least ten days in jail if the first conviction for BUI or a related offense occurred within the five years before the latest conviction. The offender must serve 48 hours of the ten-day sentence consecutively.
A third conviction for BUI subjects the offender to either a third-degree felony or first-degree misdemeanor conviction depending on the timing of the last offense. If the offense next previous to the current conviction is outside five years, then the offender faces a first-degree misdemeanor and could be sentenced to no more than one year in the Polk County jail. However, if the last conviction falls over the previous five years, then the third offense BUI becomes a third-degree felony. The maximum penalty in Florida for a third-degree felony is five years in the state’s prison. However, the judge must sentence the offender to at least 30 days’ incarceration, with 48 hours to be served consecutively. Additionally, the judge could impose a fine of no less than $2,000.00 to no more than $5,000.00.
A fourth or subsequent offense becomes a third-degree misdemeanor without regard for the timing of the previous convictions. The offender faces five years in the state’s penitentiary and a fine between $2,000.00 and $5,000.00.
Florida law allows prosecutors to select various alcohol-related offenses to use for sentencing enhancements. Therefore, the offender’s prior charges do not have to be BUI to qualify for a subsequent offense. Instead, the underlying charges used to support sentencing enhancements can be driving under the influence, or DUI, DUI Manslaughter, or DUI causing an accident. Additionally, the charges could stem from convictions in other states and not just from Florida.
BUI Accidents in Lakeland, Florida
Every boating mishap has the potential to cause loss of life. People become complacent in the water. They erroneously have great faith in their swimming abilities and therefore, do not wear a safety vest or flotation device. Additionally, boaters become complacent because they see all of the open water and figure that no harm could come to them. Driving a boat on a calm lake is much less threatening than driving on I-75 or I-4, to be sure. However, the power of water must be respected, because in as much as water gives and supports life, it can also take lives in a matter of mere moments.
Boating while under the influence and causing an accident that results in only minor personal injury or property damage is a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida. As a result, the maximum penalty is one-year incarcerated in the county jail and fine of at least $1,000.00 and probation. The operator of the boat could be convicted of this charge provided that he or she contributed in some way to the accident. The boater operating under the influence need not be the sole or exclusive cause of the crash.
The penalties become much harsher as the severity of the injuries increase. Operating a boat under the influence and causing an accident leading to a severe bodily injury is a third-degree felony in Florida. A person convicted of this charge could face the maximum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000.00. The person injured does not have to be in the water or in another boat to convict of this charge. The victim could be in the operator’s vessel and wounded because of the crash.
BUI Manslaughter is a second-degree felony. Any person convicted of a second-degree felony in Florida could serve up to fifteen years in a Florida prison. The judge could also impose a fine not to exceed $10,000.00. However, if a boater fails to stop and render aid to an injured party or does not make himself or herself known to others after an accident, then the person could be guilty of a first-degree felony. The maximum potential penalty for a first-degree felony in Florida is a possible prison sentence of no more than 30 years. The boater who fails to render aid or self-identify does not have to possess actual knowledge that the person was seriously hurt or dead to be convicted. A conviction for a first-degree felony could stand if the evidence showed that the person knew about the accident and rode off anyway.
Charges of Aggravated BUI in Lakeland, Florida
Aggravated BUI charges arise in two circumstances. The first is when a person is operating a vessel while under the influence, and children under eighteen are onboard. The second circumstance occurs when the boat operator’s BAC is equal to or greater than 0.15%.
Under either circumstance, the judge could impose a jail sentence of up to nine months and a fine of up to $2,000.00, even if it is the offender’s first charge. As with all statutory schemes in Florida’s criminal law, the penalties increase as the crimes become more severe or offenses are repeated.
A second BUI charge for having a BAC of 0.15% or higher is a first-degree misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for a first-degree misdemeanor is one year in jail along with a fine between $2,000.00 and $4,000.00. A third or subsequent offense carries no stiffer period of incarceration, but the fine increases to $4,000.00.
Defining “Operation” Under Florida’s BUI Law
Operation under Florida’s BUI law means more than being at the helm of the craft and having direct control over the boat. Operation could also entail being in command despite not being at the wheel personally. The operator, or person in command of the vessel, as the phrase is used in the statute, could face a BUI charge even if the vessel is being pushed or towed by another vessel, or in another circumstance in which the person has command of the boat although not under the direct control of the individual. The law is broad enough to encompass the maritime tradition of obeying the captain of the vessel without question and the captain ensuring that he or she is responsible for the safe passage of the ship even though he or she is not steering.
An Arrest is Not Discretionary
Florida’s BUI law gives the arresting law enforcement agent no latitude when charging someone with BUI. The agent must place the alleged offender in custody and cannot release the person until the first of several conditions are met. The law enforcement officer shall not release the arrestee until the person regains his or her entire faculties, the person’s BAC reaches 0.05%, or eight hours have passed since the time of the arrest. The law is in place to prevent releasing someone who is still under the influence of injuring another person or himself or herself.
BUI Investigations in Polk County, Florida
A BUI investigation can begin at the scene of a boat crash or other incident requiring emergency attention. However, most BUI arrests stem from encounters on the water between law enforcement and boaters when no accident occurred.
An officer patrolling the waters in Lakeland has the authority to stop a boater and require the production of certain items. A boater must produce the boat’s registration and all safety devices expected to be on board, such as flotation devices, sounding devices, and fire suppression apparatus. The officer must leave the boater unless there is an objective reason to delay freeing the stopped boater once the officer checks the registration and approves the safety equipment. Of course, a law enforcement officer could stop a boater for violating the navigational laws. One of the most common infractions is speeding in a “No Wake Zone.”
Just like car stops, police officers need not ignore what they observe in plain view. Even though officers are checking out safety equipment or writing a ticket, they are looking around for signs that something is amiss. Plain view observations of potentially unlawful behavior allow the officer to investigate further. The officer would act within his authority to begin a BUI investigation if the officer smelled alcohol coming from the operator’s breath, saw beer cans lying around on deck, the operator appeared to be confused, or had slurred speech.
At that juncture, the officer could ask the boater to pull the craft to a safe area to conduct field sobriety tests and a portable breath test. Failing either one of these tests will give the officer probable cause to arrest the operator. A reading of 0.08% or above on the portable breath test device provides the officer with probable cause to arrest the operator for BUI.
Defending Lakeland BUI Cases
Law enforcement officers and prosecutors take BUI cases very seriously. Prosecutors in Lakeland will ask the judge to impose a strict sentence that harshly punishes the offender while sending a message to the general public that the behavior is dangerous and will not be tolerated. As a result of the prevailing attitudes toward Lakeland BUI cases, the person charged with BUI might not see any way to defend the case.
A seasoned, savvy, and skilled Lakeland BUI defense lawyer will analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the case and develop a defense strategy that is right for the person charged. A knowledgeable BUI defense attorney considers the client’s tolerance for risk. Some people would instead get the “best deal possible” and move on with their lives than fight tooth and nail every step of the way. In those instances, negotiating with the prosecution might be the best defense. In other cases, however, justice might be better served by litigating the case all the way through.
BUI cases are not insurmountable. Weaknesses may be exposed in various aspects of the case and exploited to get the case dismissed, to win an acquittal, or to plea bargain for a better deal. For example, if the investigating officer detained the boater for longer than constitutionally permissible, then the judge must throw out all of the evidence gathered by the officer. That means the prosecution cannot use it at trial. The loss of strong evidence could result in a dismissal or a reduction of the charge. Additionally, demonstrating the officer rushed to judgment when making the arrest or failing to give the field sobriety tests correctly could win the day for the defense at trial.
One must remember that each case differs from all others, and the defense strategy that worked in one case might not work in another.
Musca Law’s Lakeland BUI Defense Lawyers are Ready to Help you Now
If you are facing charges for boating under the influence, our Lakeland 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 Lakeland 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 Lakeland BUI defense lawyers can fight for you.