BUI Defense Lawyers in Panama City, Florida (FL)

Panama City Beach is a waterfront town and vacation destination in northwest Florida. It's known for its many miles of white-sand beaches fronting the calm, clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. As such, it is a popular place for recreational and commercial boaters.

Given Panama City’s warm weather and seemingly endless sunshine, many people are attracted to the water. While boating in Panama City can be both fun and exhilarating, it can sometimes be deadly when alcohol or drugs are added to the mix. When people choose to drink and consume alcohol or drugs, they are at risk of facing boating under the influence charges, also known as BUI in Florida. BUI in Panama City is associated with severe legal repercussions, such as harsh monetary fines, jail time, community service, and more.

If you are facing BUI charges in Panama City, you need to have the strongest legal representation possible. Contact the seasoned Panama City BUI defense lawyers today to learn more about your legal rights and options. We are available 24/7 to discuss your case. Don’t wait – call us now at (888) 484-5057.

Boating Under the Influence is Dangerous in Bay County, Florida

Panama City is a popular place for boating, where thousands of people take to the open waters to have fun in the sun. It is not uncommon for boaters to “have a few” before operating a boat, believing that nothing bad can happen and that they are completely safe. However, according to nationwide statistics, several people underestimate the risks associated with boating, even if they are completely sober.

Without a doubt, consuming alcohol or taking drugs has the same effect on drivers of automobiles as it does on boaters. Meaning, it can cause a slowed reaction time, difficulty concentrating, impaired judgment, as well as trouble perceiving one’s speed and the speed of other boats. Even though the open waters have a significant amount of space (unlike roads), boats cannot stop as quickly as an automobile when presented with hazards. This means that a boat may have difficulty in stopping on time in order to avoid hitting another object such as a swimmer, dock, jet ski, boat, canoe, kayak, or other type of watercraft. In this view, adding alcohol or drugs to the mix is often a recipe for disaster.

BUI Law in Panama City, Florida

Pursuant to Florida Statutes Section 327.25, operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both is prohibited in Florida. However, it is important to understand that it is not illegal to consume alcohol and operate a boat, which is the same as if a person drinks alcohol and then drives a car. Otherwise stated, Florida does not have a per se law the disallows individuals from drinking alcohol and boating. However, Section 327.25 provides that a boater will be placed under arrest 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.

To secure a conviction for BUI, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that one of the above elements is present.

BUI Penalties in Panama City

As with any criminal offense, the punishment for BUI in Panama City depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case. For example, the penalties for a BUI, without the existence of aggravating factors or enhancements as discussed more fully below, is a jail term of up to six months and a monetary fine of up to $1,000. This offense is also associated with a period of probation for up to one year. When an individual is convicted of BUI in Panama City, he or she must also perform 50 hours of community service during the period of probation.

The penalties become enhanced with each additional BUI conviction. For instance, if a person is charged with a BUI for the second time, the term of imprisonment is up to nine months and the monetary fine levied will be up to $2,000. Probation may also apply. Keep in mind that the judge must sentence the repeat offender to ten days in a county jail if the second BUI happened within five years of the current one. The offender may be able to serve a part of the ten-day prison sentence during the weekend so long as 48 hours are served on a consecutive basis.

For a third BUI, if one of the previous two convictions occurred within the past ten years, then the accused will face third-degree felony charges. A felony in the third degree is associated with a term of imprisonment for up to five years in addition to a monetary fine of up to $5,000. Nonetheless, the offense is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor if the previous BUI convictions occurred outside of the ten-year lookback period. The maximum penalty for a first-degree misdemeanor is a term of imprisonment of up to one year and a monetary fine of up to $5,000.

For a fourth or subsequent BUI, each is charged as a third-degree felony. For more than a third BUI, there is a lifetime lookback period. This means that it does not matter if the previous offenses occurred more than ten years ago. Third-degree felony charges are associated with a five-year jail term and a monetary fine of up to $5,000.

Keep in mind that if an individual has been charged with driving under the influence in the past, or DUI, this can result in enhanced penalties that are sought by the prosecution against the accused.

Additional Penalties for BUI in Panama City

Imprisonment is the harshest penalty a person could face after being convicted of BUI. There are various components to the punishment scheme, as provided above, which include adult education courses, monetary fines, probation, and community service. The judge, in his or her discretion, may also order the offender to attend a substance abuse treatment program, which could be in the form of inpatient or outpatient services. If the judge orders the offender to seek treatment, he or she must pay for said treatment out of his or her own pocket.

Aggravated BUI Charges in Panama City

A DUI and BUI in Florida are nearly identical. As with a DUI case, the prosecution in Panama City will aggressively pursue aggravated BUI charges if a person is found to have a breath alcohol concentration, or BAC, of 0.15%, or if children are aboard a vessel with an impaired boater. In these instances, the boater will face a maximum prison term of nine months and be required to pay a monetary fine of up to $2,000. A second aggravated BUI conviction constitutes a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries with it a one-year prison sentence and a monetary fine of up to $4,000. Each additional offense is associated with a one-year prison term and a monetary fine of up to $4,000.

Boating Accidents Involving Alcohol in Panama City

Even a minor boating accident in Panama City can have fatal consequences. Specifically, a boating accident, despite involving low force, can cause passengers to be ejected from the boat, or may result in the boat overturning, leading to serious injuries and even death. Many people who engage in boating are under the false belief that they will be able to swim to safety if ejected from a boat. However, when an individual is thrown from a boat in a violent or unexpected manner, the situation could become fatal. Oftentimes, a person who is thrown from a boat becomes disoriented, or is unable to swim due to alcohol or drug impairment. In these set of circumstances, an impaired boater who causes a crash can be held liable for any injuries or death that occurs.

In Panama City, a boater can face serious BUI charges if law enforcement arrests an individual for being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. For instance, if a boater causes minor injury or property damage as a result of BUI, then he or she could be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, which is associated with a term of imprisonment of up to a year, and a monetary fine that is levied for up to $1,000. The penalties become enhanced based upon the nature of the accident. Specifically, if an impaired boater causes another person to sustain serious injuries, then he or she will be charged a third-degree felony, which carries with it a prison sentence of up to five years and a monetary fine of up to $5,000.

If an intoxicated boater causes an accident where someone sustained fatal injuries, this is charged as BUI manslaughter in Panama City, which constitutes a second-degree felony. If convicted of a second-degree felony, the offender will face a prison sentence of up to fifteen years and a monetary fine of up to $10,000. A BUI manslaughter charge becomes a first-degree felony if the boater flees the scene of an accident without identifying himself or herself and rendering aid to victims. A first-degree felony charge is associated with a prison term of up to 30 years and a maximum monetary fine of $10,000. The state, under these circumstances, does not need to establish that the boater had knowledge that a person perished in order to secure a first-degree felony conviction. Conversely, all a prosecutor must establish beyond a reasonable doubt is that the crash took place and the boater did not stop and identify himself or herself and render aid to accident victims.

“Operation” of a Vessel Defined in Panama City

Florida’s DUI and BUI are nearly identical however, they are different in one major way. Regarding BUI in Panama City, the state’s BUI laws do not require that the boater be behind the wheel or at the helm of the boat in order to be charged with BUI. Specifically, Florida law dictates that a boater can face BUI charges even if he or she was not physically driving the boat. Instead, if he or she is “operating” the boat, this means that he or she was in command or control of the vessel. 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 intoxicated) 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 Panama City BUI Cases

A person who is detained by law enforcement due to alcohol or drug impairment can only be placed in jail for a limited time period. This means that a person who is placed under arrest for BUI must be released when his or her faculties have been restored, eight hours have passed, or when his or her BAC drops to 0.05% or lower. Until such time, the individual will remain in prison in order to protect the public from harm.

Law enforcement in Panama City have the broad authority to stop boaters on the water. For instance, an officer can stop a boat so as to check a boater’s onboard safety devices and registration. An officer can use the registration and safety check in order to engage in a more comprehensive investigation should the circumstances warrant (meaning, if drug or alcohol impairment is suspected). Nevertheless, the officer must let the boater go after the registration and safety check have been successfully completed and there is no need to investigate further.

Keep in mind that if a boater is stopped and displays signs of impairment, such as confusion or slurred speech, or if his or her breath smells of alcohol, the officer can conduct a more intrusive investigation. Moreover, the officer may see open alcohol containers in the boat that are in plain view. Under these set of circumstances, the officer has the authority to ask the boater to submit to a portable breath test and field sobriety test. If the boater does not pass these tests, then he or she will be placed under arrest and charged with BUI in Panama City.

Defenses to Panama City BUI Charges

Just because a person engages in boating does not mean that he or she has waived his or her legal rights. Keep in mind that the prosecution has the onerous burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the boater is guilty of BUI in Panama City. In other words, the boater, just because he or she was arrested due to BUI, is not automatically deemed guilty of this crime.

A seasoned Panama City BUI defense lawyer will review the facts of the case and develop the strongest defense strategy possible. For example, upon examination of the case, the defense could assert that the defendant was not operating the vessel at the time of the stop. A person on a boat is not prohibited from being impaired so long as he or she is not engaged in the operation of the vessel. In this instance, the state has not met its burden of proof in demonstrating that the defendant is guilty of BUI in Panama City.

Additionally, what the officer observed during the stop can also be challenged. Notwithstanding the efforts of the arresting officer, he or she may not have been accurate in terms of his or her observations during the stop. Specifically, the officer may have been too quick to judge the circumstances at the time of the arrest. In fact, an officer may seek BUI charges despite not having conducted a field sobriety test. He or she could also have conducted a field sobriety test in an unfair manner, such as if there is choppy water or the accused is disabled or injured.

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 Panama City BUI Defense Lawyers are Ready to Help you Now

If you are facing charges for boating under the influence, our Panama City defense attorneys are ready to help you launch the strongest defense case possible. The repercussions of a BUI charge in Panama City can negatively impact a person’s life for years to come. That is why it is critical that you contact a seasoned Panama City 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 Panama City BUI defense lawyers can fight for you.

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