BUI Defense Lawyers in Miami, Florida (FL)
Thousands of people across the state of Florida engage in recreational and commercial boating. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, water-related activities such as hunting, fishing, recreational boating, and viewing wildlife bring into the state about $20 million and create 300,000 jobs on an annual basis.
It is not surprising that given Florida’s warm weather and seemingly endless sunshine, many individuals are attracted to the water, where luxurious homes dot the coastline and where residential communities continue to be built around lakes, streams, ponds, and rivers.
Given Miami’s connection to boating and water, it is not uncommon for people to engage in boating, which for many, is both fun and exhilarating. However, some choose to mix boating with drugs and/or alcohol, which is a serious problem in the state often leading to serious injury and death. Boating and “having a bit too many” is prosecuted as boating under the influence, or BUI, which has severe repercussions in Florida, including jail time, harsh monetary fines, community service, and more.
If you are facing BUI charges in Miami, you need zealous representation. Contact the seasoned Miami BUI defense lawyers at Musca Law today at (888) 484-5057 to learn more about your legal rights and options.
Boating Under the Influence is Dangerous in Miami
Miami is a city that is best known around the world for its relaxing atmosphere, vibrant nightlife, and beautiful beaches. As such, it is a popular place for boating, where thousands of people take to the open waters to have fun in the sun. This influences some people to drink and go boating, thinking that having a few drinks is completely safe. Given the thrilling nature of boating, it often influences some to believe that nothing bad could happen. However, according to nationwide statistics, several individuals underestimate the risks associated with boating, even when they have not consumed alcohol or drugs.
Undoubtedly, drinking alcohol or taking drugs affects boaters in the same manner that it affects operators of motor vehicles. Specifically, it can cause a boater to experience difficulty in concentrating and reacting in a timely fashion when hazards are present. It can also affect a boater’s ability to perceive the actual speed at which they are traveling, as well as face difficulties in appreciating the speed at which others are going in the water. Even though the open waters have ample space, boats, unlike motor vehicles, cannot stop as quickly as an automobile on the road. This means that the boater may have trouble stopping in time to avoid hitting another object such as a dock, boat, swimmer, jet ski, or other type of vessel.
BUI Law in Miami, Florida
Under Florida Statutes Section 327.25, operating a vessel while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both is illegal in Florida. However, like with driving an automobile, it is not illegal to consume alcohol and operate a boat. Otherwise stated, Florida does not have a per se law that prohibits people from consuming alcohol and boating. Alternatively, Section 327.25 provides that an individual who is operating a boat will be arrested and charged with BUI if one of the following is present:
- The individual’s normal faculties are impaired by drugs, alcohol, or both;
- The individual’s breath alcohol concentration is 0.08 grams in 210 liters of breath; or
- The individual’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 grams per 100 milliliters of blood.
When prosecuting BUI cases, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the presence of one of the above elements in order to secure a conviction.
BUI Penalties in Miami-Dade County, Florida
As with any crime, the penalties for BUI in Miami are contingent upon the nature of the set of circumstances surrounding the offense. For instance, the specific punishment for BUI, without the presence of enhancements or aggravating factors as discussed below, is a prison term of at least six months and a maximum monetary fine of $1,000. This offense also carries with it a period of probation for one year or less. A person who is convicted of BUI in Miami must also perform 50 hours of community service during the probation period.
There may be enhancements to the offense that occur with each additional BUI conviction. For example, if an individual is charged with a second BUI, the prison term is up to nine months and a monetary fine imposed on the offender will be up to $2,000. Probation may also apply. Keep in mind that the judge must sentence the recidivist to ten days in county jail if the second BUI occurred within five years of the instant one. The offender may be able to serve a portion of the ten-day prison term during the weekend so long as 48 hours are consecutively served.
Each subsequent conviction is associated with more severe penalties. For a third BUI, if one of the previous two convictions occurred within the past ten years (prior to the current one), then the offender will be charged with a felony in the third degree. A third-degree felony carries with it a prison sentence of up to five years plus a maximum monetary fine of $5,000. Notwithstanding, the crime is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor if the previous BUI occurred outside of the ten-year lookback period. The maximum penalty for a first-degree misdemeanor is a term of one year in jail and a monetary fine assessed of up to $5,000.
For a fourth or subsequent BUI, each constitutes a third-degree felony. Keep in mind that there is no limitation as to when the prior convictions occurred. This means that under Florida law, there is a lifetime lookback period for four or more BUI convictions. This results in the offender facing up to a five-year jail sentence and a monetary fine of up to $5,000.
It is important to understand that if a person charged with BUI has had a prior DUI conviction or convictions, (driving under the influence), then the prosecutor can seek enhanced penalties.
Additional Penalties for BUI in Miami
Jail time is the most severe penalty a person could face following a BUI conviction. Various components of the punishment scene, as provided above, include community service, adult education courses, probation, and monetary fines. The judge may also impose an additional penalty, which may include ordering the offender to attend substance abuse counseling, whether on an outpatient or inpatient basis. Keep in mind that the offender must front the costs for his or her treatment, despite the fact that the judge ordered him or her to do so.
Aggravated BUI Charges in Miami
A DUI and BUI in Florida are nearly the same. As in a DUI case, the Miami prosecution can pursue aggravated BUI charges if an individual is found to have a BAC of 0.15%, or has children present (those under the age of 18) aboard the vessel when the boater was stopped due to suspected alcohol or drug impairment.
In these instances, the boater will face a maximum prison sentence of nine months and be required to pay a monetary fine of up to $2,000. A second aggravated BUI conviction is a first-degree misdemeanor, which is associated with a one-year prison term and a monetary fine of up to $4,000. Each additional offense carries with it a one-year prison term and a monetary fine of up to $4,000.
Boating Accidents Involving Alcohol in Miami
Even a minor accident can prove fatal. Any crash that occurs between two vessels can cause passengers to be ejected from the boat, or could cause the boat to capsize, leading to serious injuries and even death. Many people who ride in a boat are under the mistaken belief that they can swim to safety if they are thrown from a boat. However, when a person is ejected unexpectedly or in a violent manner, the situation can prove fatal. Specifically, the person who is thrown can become disoriented or injured, or quite possibly they are intoxicated and unable to swim. In these instances, an impaired boater who causes an accident can be held liable for any injuries or death that occurs.
In Miami, a boater can face serious BUI charges if law enforcement has probable cause to believe that he or she caused an accident while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For example, if a person causes property damage or minor bodily injury as a result of BUI, then he or she could face a first-degree misdemeanor charge, which carries with it a prison term of up to one year, and a monetary fine of up to $1,000. The penalties become more severe based upon the nature of the accident. Specifically, if someone sustains serious bodily injury in an accident involving an impaired boater, then the boater could face a third-degree felony charge, which is associated with a prison term of up to five years and a maximum monetary fine of $5,000.
If an impaired boater causes an accident where someone perished, this is known as BUI manslaughter, which qualifies as a second-degree felony in Miami. A second-degree felony carries with it a maximum jail term of fifteen years and a monetary fine of up to $10,000. A BUI manslaughter charge becomes a first-degree felony if the boater chooses to leave the scene of the accident rather than stay, identify himself or herself, and render aid to injury victims. A first-degree felony conviction is associated with a prison term of up to thirty years coupled with a maximum monetary fine of $10,000. The state, under these set of circumstances, does not need to establish that the boater knew that an individual died in order to win a first-degree felony conviction. Specifically, the prosecution is only required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an accident took place and the boater did not stop and identify himself or herself and render aid to injury victims.
“Operation” of a Vessel Defined According to Florida Law
Florida’s DUI and BUI laws are very similar however, they differ in one crucial way. With regard to BUI in Miami, the state’s BUI laws do not require the prosecution to establish that the boater was behind the wheel or at the helm of the boat when stopped by law enforcement due to boating while impaired. Essentially, Florida’s BUI laws are broader than its DUI laws (which requires the prosecution to establish that a person was behind the wheel when stopped for driving while impaired) given maritime traditions of a captain who is responsible for both the safety of the crew and for the safe passage of the watercraft.
Law Enforcement in Miami BUI Cases
An individual arrested by Miami law enforcement due to alcohol or drug impairment can only be placed in jail for a finite period of time. Meaning, that a person who is arrested for BUI must be released after eight hours have passed, when his or her faculties have been restored, or until his or her BAC goes down to 0.05% or below. Until such time, the person will remain behind bars in order to prevent further harm to the public.
Law enforcement officers in Miami have a broad authority to stop boaters on the water. For example, an officer can stop a boat in order to conduct a registration and safety check. The officer can use a safety and registration check as a way to conduct a more thorough investigation should the circumstances warrant (i.e., if alcohol or drug impairment is suspected). Nonetheless, the officer must release the boater once he or she renders the determination that the boat has passed a registration and safety check.
However, the officer may conduct a more intrusive search if he or she observes that a boater is displaying signs of impairment such as confusion, slurred speech, or if his or her breath smells of alcohol. Moreover, the officer may observe that there are containers of alcohol on the boat that are in plain view. Under these set of circumstances, the officer has the authority to request that the boater conduct a field sobriety test and a portable breath test. If the boater fails these tests, then he or she will be arrested and charged with BUI.
Defenses to Miami BUI Charges
Just because a boater takes a vessel out for a spin does not mean that he or she has waived his or her constitutional rights. Specifically, the government has the burden of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that the boater is guilty of BUI in Miami. Otherwise stated, the boater is not automatically deemed guilty of this offense.
A seasoned Miami BUI defense lawyer will examine the facts of the case and develop the strongest defense case possible. For instance, the defense could challenge the prosecution’s claim that the defendant was operating the vessel when he or she was stopped by law enforcement. Essentially, a person on a boat may be intoxicated however, if he or she was not operating the boat, then the state has not met its burden of proof in establishing that the defendant is guilty of BUI. There is no law in Florida that prohibits a boat passenger from consuming alcohol and being impaired.
In addition, the officer’s observations can also be subject to attack. Regardless of the officer’s efforts, he or she may not be accurate in terms of his or her observations. Specifically, the officer may have been too quick to judge a given situation and choose not to pursue a more thorough investigation. In fact, they may seek BUI charges despite not conducting a field sobriety test, or they could request that the boater submit to a field sobriety test under unfair circumstances, such as if there is choppy water or if the boater is injured or has a disability. An officer may also fail to follow established procedures such as a blood or breath test to determine whether the boater, is, in fact, impaired.
Musca Law’s Miami BUI Defense Lawyers are Ready to Help you Now
If you are facing charges for boating under the influence, our Miami 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 Miami 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 Miami BUI defense lawyers can fight for you.