BUI Defense Lawyers in Port Charlotte, Florida (FL)
Port Charlotte, Florida is known as one of the country’s best retirement communities. In 2009, Port Charlotte ranked number one on CNNMoney.com’s list of “25 Best Places to Retire.” In 2012, US News & World Report identified Port Charlotte as one of the top ten places to retire. In 2015, Port Charlotte also made Forbes’ list of “25 Best Places to Retire.”
Without question, Port Charlotte has a unique vibe that brings retirees from all across the United States. Port Charlotte’s tropical weather and long summers provide a great environment for boating and swimming off the western coast of Florida. As such, it is not surprising that the city’s beauty and favorable weather has attracted more than 50,000 residents.
With ample choices for boating, fishing, and using other watercraft off the coast of Port Charlotte, law enforcement officials are kept busy checking to ensure boats and other watercraft are properly registered. Given that weather conditions can change rapidly in Florida’s waters, law enforcement officers keep a close eye on all water traffic. An unfortunate reality of boating is that some individuals operating boats while under the influence of alcohol or drugs will be arrested and charged with boating under the influence (BUI). Because any BUI charge can be serious, any person facing a Port Charlotte BUI charge should act quickly to consult with a Port Charlotte BUI Defense Lawyer.
If you or someone you know is facing a BUI charge in Port Charlotte, you should consider contacting Musca Law today to discuss your situation with one of our Port Charlotte BUI Defense Lawyers. With decades of experience helping individuals facing BUIs and other crimes throughout the state of Florida. To schedule your free consultation, contact Musca Law today by calling (888) 484-5057.
Boating Under the Influence in Port Charlotte – What You Should Know
A significant number of Port Charlotte residents and visitors choose to consume alcohol while on a boat or other watercraft. While it is not illegal to enjoy a drink while on a boat, it is illegal to “operate” a boat while under the influence. Additionally, an individual who chooses to operate a boat while under the influence of a few drinks may feel completely normal and without diminishment of his/her physical and mental abilities to operate a boat or other watercraft.
However, even a small amount of alcohol can hinder a person’s ability to adequately operate a boat or other watercraft, especially in the ocean when weather and water conditions are unpredictable. The best option for enjoying Port Charlotte waters while on a boat or other watercraft is to have a designated boat operator who does not have any amount of alcohol. In doing so, all passengers can feel safe and confident they are complying with Florida law.
Port Charlotte, Florida BUI Laws
Pursuant to Florida Statute Section 327.35, it is illegal for a person to operate a boat or other type of vessel (such as a jet ski or wave runner) while under the influence of alcohol and/or controlled substances. A person may be found guilty of BUI in Port Charlotte if he or she satisfies the following statutory elements:
- The person is operating a boat or vessel within the state of Florida;
- The person is under the influence of alcohol and/or controlled substances, impairing the person’s “normal faculties”;
- The person’s blood-alcohol level is 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood; or
- The person’s breath-alcohol level is 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.
Under Florida law, a person who has been drinking, but whose “normal faculties” are not impaired may avoid a BUI charge if his/her blood-alcohol or breath-alcohol levels are 0.07 or less. However, because Port Charlotte law enforcement officials have substantial discretion when accusing individuals of boating under the influence, one should assume that even a small amount of alcohol may lead a law enforcement official to conclude that a person’s “normal faculties” are impaired.
Understanding the Penalties Resulting from a BUI Conviction in Port Charlotte
Having a clean criminal record provides an individual with ample opportunities in life, such as going to college, renting an apartment, or getting a job. Such opportunities can quickly fade if a person is slammed with a BUI conviction. Even one BUI conviction can change the trajectory of a person’s life. Florida law has rather harsh penalties for BUI, much like the penalties for driving under the influence.
Florida law mandates the following penalties for conviction of a first or second BUI offense:
- A fine not to exceed $1,000 for a first BUI conviction;
- A fine not to exceed $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.
If a person has two prior BUI convictions and is convicted of a third BUI within ten years of being convicted of the second BUI offense, he or she faces a third-degree felony resulting in a fine not to exceed $5,000 and jail time of at least thirty days, but not to exceed five years. If a person’s third BUI conviction happens more than ten years following the second BUI conviction, he or she faces a fine not to exceed $5,000 and jail time not to exceed one year.
Other Penalties Resulting from a Port Charlotte BUI Conviction
In addition to jail time and fines, any person convicted of BUI in Port Charlotte (whether the BUI is a first, second, third, or subsequent offense) faces probation which requires monthly reporting. For a first BUI conviction, a person should expect the probationary period to last for up to one year. The probationary period for second or subsequent BUI convictions could be much longer.
A convicted person will also be required to complete a substance abuse course mandated by the court as well as complete at least 50 hours of community service. Moreover, the boat or other vessel involved in a BUI incident will be impounded for at least ten days for a first BUI offense and at least thirty days for a second BUI offense.
Aggravated BUI Charges in Port Charlotte
A BUI charge in Port Charlotte may be enhanced depending on the unique circumstances of a person’s case. For instance, if a person facing a Port Charlotte BUI has a prior DUI or prior drug conviction, prosecutors may seek to enhance the BUI charge to being an aggravated BUI. Additionally, if a person’s blood-alcohol content is 0.15% or higher, he or she may face an aggravated BUI. Another way a person may face an aggravated BUI charge in Port Charlotte is if children under the age of eighteen were present on a boat or vessel at the time the boat/vessel is stopped by law enforcement officers in Port Charlotte waters.
Your Port Charlotte BUI Defense Lawyer Plays a Role in the Successful Defense of Your Case
Florida law, as written, is strict when it comes to penalties for BUI throughout the state. However, some prosecutors may be more aggressive than others in seeking to impose penalties. As such, two seemingly similar cases may have different outcomes based on (1) who the prosecutor is, and (2) the quality of the accused person’s Port Charlotte BUI Defense Lawyer.
There are many excellent attorneys throughout Port Charlotte and the rest of Florida. However, an attorney with a reputation for success, and an attorney who has a good relationship with prosecutors may help a person reach a better result than he or she otherwise would with a less-experienced attorney. After all, you want an attorney who specializes in criminal defense, not an attorney who handles probate matters or personal injury. Some attorneys are “all-purpose” lawyers, but because BUIs in Port Charlotte can be serious, you need the best attorney possible.
Port Charlotte Boating/Vessel Accidents That Involve Alcohol or Drugs
Boating accidents can be horrific incidents that result in substantial property damage, physical injuries, and even death. Such accidents happen every day without the involvement of alcohol or drugs. As such, when alcohol or drugs are suspected to be a contributing factor to a boating accident in Port Charlotte, the person accused of boating under the influence may face extremely harsh criminal penalties if he or she is convicted.
Port Charlotte law enforcement officers who have probable cause to assert that a person was under the influence of alcohol or drugs while operating a boat or vessel and the person caused an accident, that person could face substantial jail time if convicted of BUI and related crimes. The outcome of a person’s case will be dependent upon the extent of property damage and physical injuries. Obviously, the greater the harm to others, the more serious the penalties will be.
If an accident involving BUI results in property damage and/or minor physical injuries, the accused person faces a first-degree misdemeanor which may result in jail time of up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000. If a BUI accident results in serious physical injuries, the accused person faces a third-degree felony which may result in jail time of up to five years and a fine of up to $5,000.
In the worst case, if a BUI-related accident leads to another person’s death, the accused person faces the second-degree felony of BUI manslaughter which may result in jail time of up to fifteen years and a fine of up to $10,000. The penalties may be even harsher and considered a first-degree penalty if the accused person failed to stop and identify him/herself at the time of the BUI-related accident, and failed to render aid to injured individuals. If convicted of BUI manslaughter in this scenario, an accused person faces up to thirty years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Understanding What it Means to “Operate” a Boat or Vessel in Port Charlotte, Florida
Under Florida law, law enforcement officers and prosecutors have broad discretion when accusing someone of boating under the influence. For example, to be charged with driving under the influence in Florida, prosecutors must prove that the accused person was behind the wheel and in control of the vehicle at the time he or she is stopped by police. With BUI offenses in Florida, prosecutors do not need to prove that the accused person was in control of the boat or vessel at the time it was stopped by law enforcement officers. Prosecutors may rely on other evidence to prove the accused person was the boat or vessel operator.
Whether a person accused of BUI was the operator of the boat or vessel while under the influence is a crucial question that is often disputed in court. When a boat is stopped by Port Charlotte law enforcement officers, it may not be clear which person is the operator of the boat or vessel. As such, if a person is charged with BUI even if he/she was not operating the boat/vessel that is stopped by Port Charlotte law enforcement officers, the accused person may have grounds to have the BUI charge dismissed.
What Happens After Being Arrested for a BUI in Charlotte County?
Florida law allows law enforcement officers to detain individuals arrested on suspicion of boating under the influence, however, there are limitations on how long a person can be detained. After arrest, individuals facing BUI charges must be released once the following happens:
- 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.
A person will remain in custody until one of the above-listed elements is met.
Understanding the Wide Discretion Afforded to Port Charlotte Law Enforcement Officers
Given how serious boating accidents can be, it comes as no surprise that Port Charlotte law enforcement officers heavily monitor waters off the coast. As part of their monitoring duties, Port Charlotte law enforcement officers can undergo random safety and registration checks to determine whether a boat or vessel is legally operating. While such safety and registration checks are essential, they often lead law enforcement officers to suspect boaters have been operating a boat/vessel under the influence.
For example, if a boat or vessel is stopped by Port Charlotte law enforcement officers, and upon entry to the boat, an officer suspects the operator of the boat or vessel is under the influence of alcohol, the officer may ask that the operator (or anyone on the boat) undergo breathalyzer testing and/or a field sobriety test. Such conduct may seem unfair, but the law allows for officers to conduct such testing if they reasonably suspect alcohol or drugs have been used by the person operating the boat or vessel.
Providing a Defense to a Port Charlotte BUI Charge
All individuals accused of a crime deserve a strong defense, and no individual is presumed guilty. After all, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person is guilty of boating under the influence in Port Charlotte. To do so, prosecutors must present evidence that shows a person was the operator of a boat/vessel that was stopped by law enforcement officers and that the person was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Without a strong Port Charlotte BUI Defense Attorney, an accused person has an uphill battle. However, with an experienced and qualified attorney, an accused person will have an array of defenses that can help to potentially dismiss a BUI charge or at least reduce a BUI charge to something more minor. A person’s criminal history will come into play when providing a defense to the BUI charge.
One of the strongest defenses to a BUI charge in Port Charlotte is that the person charged was not the operator of the boat/vessel stopped by law enforcement officers, but rather was a passenger to the boat. Because being a passenger under the influence of alcohol is not a crime in Florida, a person who can prove he/she was a passenger has a good chance of having a BUI charge dismissed. However, to even have an opportunity to dismiss a BUI charge, an accused person must have strong legal representation that only a seasoned Port Charlotte BUI Defense Lawyer can provide.
Contact the Port Charlotte BUI Defense Lawyers of Musca Law Today
Facing a BUI charge in Port Charlotte can be a stressful and frightening experience that you should not fight alone. To ensure you have the best opportunity to fight a BUI charge in Port Charlotte, you need to have a strong advocate by your side to defend against aggressive prosecutors. At Musca Law, our team of Port Charlotte Defense Lawyers know all too well what is at stake following a BUI charge. Allow our legal team to review your case and provide you with the advice you need to fully represent your rights in court. Contact Musca law today by calling (888) 484-5057 to schedule a free consultation.