BUI Defense Lawyers in Pensacola, Florida (FL)
With close to 55,000 residents, Pensacola, Florida, is a charming city and home to the United States Naval Air Station and the Blue Angels. As with many parts of Florida, Pensacola has sandy white beaches that make the city a popular tourist destination. Along with its beautiful beaches comes a variety of water sports and activities, including, among others, boating, riding jet skis or wave runners, swimming, fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, and surfing.
While water sports and activities bring enjoyment and memories, a good time can quickly become a nightmare if individuals operating a watercraft are alleged to have been operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Referred to as boating under the influence (BUI), operating a watercraft while intoxicated has extremely harsh penalties in the state of Florida. As such, anyone facing BUI charges in Pensacola will need to retain an excellent Pensacola BUI Defense Attorney to fight the criminal charges in court.
If you have been charged with BUI in Pensacola, act quickly to speak with the highly qualified and reputable Pensacola BUI Defense Attorneys at Musca Law. To find out how our legal team can help you, contact our office today by calling (888) 484-5057.
The Dangers Associated with Boating Under the Influence in Pensacola
Given that Pensacola is a beautiful place to live and visit with ample options for recreation year-round, it is not surprising that alcohol is involved in many water-related activities, including boating and using other watercraft. Many individuals consume what they believe to be a small amount of alcohol (such as 2 or 3 beers) and think they can safely operate a boat.
However, even a few beers can impair a person’s ability to operate a boat or other watercraft safely. Operating a boat, especially in the ocean where there can be large waves, is already difficult without the involvement of alcohol. As such, adding alcohol to the mix (or drugs) can create a situation where boaters are at risk of sustaining severe injuries or death.
Unfortunately, some people underestimate just how dangerous alcohol can be, and often assume that boating under the influence is not even comparable to driving under the influence. With the significant number of boats in Pensacola waters, boating under the influence can be just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than driving under the influence.
Pensacola, Florida BUI Laws
Under Florida law, Statute Section 327.35, it is unlawful for an individual to operate a boat or other type of watercraft while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Like driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs while operating a vehicle, a person may be found guilty of boating under the influence if the following elements are satisfied:
- The person is operating a boat or watercraft in the state of Florida;
- The person is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs to the extent the person’s “normal faculties are impaired”;
- The person has a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood; or
- The person has a breath-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.
Florida’s BUI laws do not entirely prohibit operating a boat or watercraft while drinking. A person could conceivably have one or two beers and not (1) show a diminishment in his/her mental faculties, or (2) have a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher.
However, any amount of alcohol can impair a person’s ability to operate a boat or watercraft, and Florida law enforcement officials take boating while under the influence (even just a little bit) very seriously. As such, the wise option is not to operate a boat or watercraft while under the influence of any amount of alcohol or drugs.
Penalties Associated with Boating Under the Influence in Pensacola
Being convicted of BUI in Pensacola can be detrimental to a person’s record and future. One incidence of operating a boat or watercraft while intoxicated can mean not only jail time, fines, probation, and a criminal record, but such a criminal conviction can harm a person’s chances of renting or purchasing a home, attending college or getting a job.
Under Florida law, an individual with a first or second BUI conviction faces the following criminal penalties:
- A fine between $500 and $1,000 for a first BUI conviction;
- A fine between $1,000 and $2,000 for a second BUI conviction;
- Jail time not to exceed six months for a first BUI conviction; and
- Jail time of at least ten days, but not to exceed nine months for a second BUI conviction.
Any person who is convicted of BUI for the third time within ten years of a prior BUI conviction is guilty of a third-degree felony, which is punishable by a fine not to exceed $5,000, and jail time of at least 30 days, but not to exceed five years. If a third BUI conviction happens more than ten years after a prior BUI conviction, the convicted person faces a fine between $2,000 and $5,000 and jail time not to exceed 12 months.
Additional Penalties Beyond Jail Time and Fines
Regardless of whether a Pensacola BUI conviction is a person’s first, second, third, or subsequent offense, the convicted person will be subject to monthly reporting probation. Additionally, the convicted person will be required to attend a substance abuse course identified by the court. For a first BUI offense, the probationary period will be no longer than 12 months. The convicted individual must also participate in community service for at least 50 hours. The boat or watercraft used in the BUI offense will be impounded for at least ten days after a first offense and at least 30 days after a second offense.
Aggravated BUI Charges in Pensacola
The severity of a BUI charge will depend not only upon the accused person’s criminal history (i.e., whether he/she has ever been convicted of a prior BUI, DUI or other crime) but also on how serious the alleged act is. For example, as is the case with Florida DUI charges, Pensacola prosecutors may seek to charge a person with aggravated BUI if his/her blood-alcohol concentration is 0.15% or higher.
Additionally, Pensacola prosecutors may have grounds to charge a person with aggravated BUI if children under the age of eighteen were on board the boat or watercraft at the time law enforcement officials stopped it. Moreover, a history of driving under the influence will undoubtedly play a role in a Pensacola prosecutor’s case when charging someone with BUI.
Why the Strength of Your Pensacola BUI Defense Attorney is So Important
While Florida statutes dictate the standard penalties for first, second, third, and subsequent BUI offenses, every BUI case will be dealt with independently. What this means is that a person charged with BUI cannot predict that he or she will have the same outcome as another individual facing a BUI charge. Even if two people have a clean criminal record, one person may face harsher penalties than the other person.
A disparity in outcome is often dependent upon the strength of an accused person’s attorney. An inexperienced Pensacola BUI Defense Attorney may not be successful in getting a BUI charge dismissed or getting the penalties reduced to a less-severe criminal charge. A more skilled Pensacola BUI Defense Attorney, on the other hand, has the experience, knowledge, dedication, reputation, and rapport with Pensacola prosecutors to help an accused person reach the best result possible. This is not to say that having the best attorney will ensure criminal charges are dismissed, but that to even have a chance at dismissing or reducing a BUI charge, it is essential to be represented by a superior Pensacola BUI Defense Attorney.
Alcohol-Related Boating Accidents in Pensacola
Criminal penalties associated with ordinary BUI charges can be harsh, but in most cases, accused persons will overcome the situation and move on with their life. However, when BUI incidents involve accidents, the stakes become much higher and the consequences harsher, especially when a person sustains serious bodily injuries or death. Depending on the water and weather conditions at the time of a Pensacola BUI incident, a minor collision could be deadly, especially at night.
Additionally, a boat could capsize and leave all passengers fending for themselves in tumultuous waters. While many people are good swimmers, being thrown from a boat or other watercraft can make it difficult to swim to safety. After all, if passengers are not wearing life jackets at all times, they do not have added security in the event they find themselves unexpectedly swimming in Pensacola waters.
Injuries associated with BUI-related accidents can be catastrophic and life-threatening. Whether a passenger is ejected from a boat upon collision with another vessel, or whether passengers are stuck underneath a capsized boat or other watercraft, the injuries could quickly become fatal. If passengers are under the influence at the time of the accident, their physical and mental abilities to act swiftly and coherently may be compromised, increasing the chances that significant injuries or death may result. Given how dangerous boating accidents are – with or without alcohol or drugs – it cannot be stressed enough how important it is for all operators and passengers to wear life jackets.
If Pensacola law enforcement officials have probable cause to believe that a person was under the influence at the time of a boating accident and was the operator of the boat or watercraft, the person faces potentially severe BUI charges, not to mention possible manslaughter charges if a person is killed. If a BUI-related accident results in property damage or minor physical injuries, the accused person faces a first-degree misdemeanor, which may result in jail time not to exceed one year and a fine not to exceed $1,000.
If a BUI-related accident results in serious bodily injuries to anyone, the accused person faces a third-degree felony, which may result in jail time not to exceed five years and a fine not to exceed $5,000. If a BUI-related accident results in death, the accused person faces a BUI manslaughter charge, which is considered a second-degree felony. A person convicted of BUI manslaughter in Pensacola faces up to fifteen years in jail and a fine not to exceed $10,000.
The BUI manslaughter conviction becomes a first-degree felony if the accused person failed to stop, identify him/herself, and render aid to the victim(s). A person convicted of BUI manslaughter in the first degree faces up to 30 years in jail and a fine not to exceed $10,000.
What Does it Mean to Operate a Vessel Under Florida BUI Laws?
When a person faces a DUI charge in Florida, prosecutors must prove that the person was behind the wheel or in control of a vehicle at the time law enforcement officers stop the vehicle. With Florida BUI charges, on the other hand, prosecutors do not need to prove that an accused person was the “operator” of the boat or watercraft at the time the boat or watercraft is stopped by law enforcement.
At the time a boat or other watercraft is stopped, it may not be obvious which person was “operating” the boat. Additionally, more than one person may be jointly operating a boat or other watercraft while on Pensacola waters. As such, a Pensacola prosecutor may not have clear evidence that an accused person was operating the boat or watercraft at the time it was stopped.
Therefore, the prosecutor will have to present other evidence to prove the accused person was operating the boat or watercraft while under the influence. One example of evidence that suggests an accused person was operating a boat is a witness’s testimony that the accused was operating and in control of the boat at the time it is stopped by law enforcement officers.
What Happens After Being Arrested on Suspicion of Boating Under the Influence in Pensacola?
If a person is arrested on suspicion of operating a boat or other watercraft in Pensacola waters while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the person can only be detained by law enforcement officials for a limited period of time. A person may be released in the following circumstances:
- Once eight hours have passed;
- Once a person’s mental faculties and abilities have come back (after the alcohol and/or drugs have worn off); or
- Once a person’s blood-alcohol concentration is 0.05% or less.
Until a person meets one of these three thresholds, he or she will remain in jail behind bars.
Pensacola Law Enforcement Officials Have Wide Discretion to Stop Boaters
Law enforcement officials heavily monitor Pensacola waters and the reason is not only to catch boaters under the influence. While law enforcement officials are certainly on the lookout for intoxicated boaters, they also are present to ensure boaters are generally safely operating boats or other watercraft and that all boats and watercraft in Pensacola waters are appropriately registered.
Pensacola law enforcement officials have the discretion to stop boaters for random safety and registration checks. It is at this time when many boaters are arrested on suspicion of boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Law enforcement officials may come aboard to perform the safety and registration check, notice empty beer cans, and then notice the smell of alcohol on the breath of those on board the boat or other watercraft. If so, then the Pensacola law enforcement officials may ask that the individuals on-board the boat subject themselves to breathalyzer tests and field sobriety tests.
Defending Against an Escambia County BUI Charge
While criminal charges are harsh and intimidating, there are defenses an accused person can raise to show that he or she should not be found guilty. Pensacola prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person is guilty of BUI. As such, it is not enough for prosecutors to show that a person was under the influence of alcohol or drugs while on a boat or watercraft. Under Florida law, it is not illegal to be under the influence of alcohol as a boat passenger. Prosecutors must have something more to identify an accused person as the operator of the boat.
With the assistance of a seasoned Pensacola BUI Defense Attorney, an accused person can present a strong defense that he or she was not operating the boat or other watercraft at the time it was stopped by law enforcement officials. Additional defenses may exist if a person was charged with BUI without having undergone a breathalyzer test, or a person’s field sobriety test was unfair in any way (such as being done in poor weather conditions that cause choppy waters).
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding a Pensacola BUI charge, strong legal representation can mean the difference between potential dismissal of the charge and serving significant jail time. While no guarantees can ever be made in any criminal case, finding a qualified attorney will certainly help to reach a more favorable result.
Contact the Pensacola BUI Defense Lawyers of Musca Law Today
If you have been charged with boating under the influence in Pensacola, you must act quickly to retain a qualified Pensacola Defense Lawyer who can provide you with the defense you need to fight against aggressive prosecutors. At Musca Law, our Pensacola BUI Defense Lawyers have helped countless clients just like you. Your future is on the line, and you deserve the best possible defense. Contact Musca Law today by calling (888) 484-5057 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your situation with one of our Pensacola BUI Defense Lawyers.