BUI Defense Lawyers in Punta Gorda, Florida
How to Beat a BUI Charge in Florida
Boating is a popular pastime in Punta Gorda, which is home to Florida’s second-largest harbor. Boaters in the area can reach the Gulf of Mexico and have access to excellent fishing opportunities. Water enthusiasts use the 129 square miles of protected water to kayak, sail, fish, or cruise. Punta Gorda has even landed on lists of the top locations in the nation to sail.
With so many ways to use the water, and so many people coming to Punta Gorda to enjoy boating and related activities, the local authorities take boat safety very seriously. Boaters who violate boating laws and regulations can face serious fines and legal repercussions. One of the most serious violations is for boating under the influence.
Boating Under the Influence Creates Dangers
When it comes to boating and consuming alcohol, the law in Florida is similar to that related to driving. A boat operator will not violate the law by consuming any amount of alcohol and operating a boat. Instead, the legal limit of .08 percent alcohol per volume applies to boat operators in the same way that it would apply to drivers. Operating a boat with a BAC that is above .08 percent is a criminal offense, and law enforcement will take such a crime very seriously. Many people fail to realize how quickly they can reach a BAC that would violate the legal limit.
Officers are concerned about boating under the influence for good reason. Alcohol plays a role in a large number of boat-related deaths across the country. Boating after consuming alcohol is risky and can lead to injuries and fatalities. Much like drunk driving, drunk boating is an incredibly dangerous endeavor.
Alcohol reduces a person’s reaction times, can lead to the person being more easily distracted, and can cause a person to lose his or her ability to gauge the speed of the vessel and to identify potentially hazardous situations.
Operating a boat comes with some other complications as well, including sun, wind, waves, and the vibrating motor, all of which can increase the effect of the alcohol on a person’s system and functions.
While boating under the influence is dangerous, many people understandably fail to realize just how risky it is to try to control a boat after consuming alcohol. After all, boating is a fun recreational activity, and people on the water are often socializing and celebrating. Alcohol does not seem out of place to many people on boats. In reality, boating is dangerous even for people who are sober. There are plenty of things that can potentially go wrong, including hazards just below the water surface, fallen trees, and unexpected inclement weather. Given all of the possible complications, it is wise to stay alert. Even just a small amount of alcohol can make a person much less able to judge distances and react in time in the event of an emergency. Crashes on the water are serious matters. No one should take irresponsible and unnecessary risks with their life or the lives of others in their boat or on the water.
Prosecuting Drunk Boating Crimes in Punta Gorda, Florida
When a person is found guilty of boating under the influence of alcohol, the consequences car be severe. Florida Statutes §327.35 provides that prosecutors can seek prison time, monetary fines, and other penalties, including probation for boaters who are caught operating their boats under the influence of alcohol. The prosecution must show that the boat operator was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury or judge must be persuaded that the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or that the individual had a blood alcohol level of .08 percent alcohol per volume, at the time that he or she was in control of the vessel in question. Beyond a reasonable doubt is a high standard of proof that is guaranteed by the United States Constitution. In criminal matters, the strict burden provides protection for defendants by ensuring that the prosecutors must make an especially strong case to prove that the defendant is guilty.
Penalties Associated with a Punta Gorda BUI Conviction
The law dictates which penalties may be applied in a BUI case in Punta Gorda. Section 327.35 of the law states that a first-time BUI can be punished with a six-month jail term and a maximum fine of $1,000. The defendant could also be subjected to a year-long probationary period and might be required to undergo counseling for drug or alcohol abuse, as determined by the judge. In many instances, the defendant will also have to complete a certain amount of community service.
The penalties increase for those individuals who commit multiple offenses, or who have aggravating factors related to the alleged crime. In the case of a second BUI, the prison term is a maximum of nine months, and the fine doubles to $2,000. In the event that a person commits a second BUI, the judge must impose a minimum sentence of ten days in prison so long as a prior BUI conviction occurred within the five years before the second offense. At least 48 hours of that term must be completed consecutively.
In the case of a third BUI conviction, the crime becomes a first-degree misdemeanor, or in some cases, a first-degree felony. The difference is determined based on when the previous convictions took place. If the crime is a first-degree misdemeanor, the jail time cannot exceed one year. If the crime is determined a felony, the sentence can include imprisonment for up to five years and a $5,000 maximum fine. In these cases, the judge is bound to a minimum sentence of 30 days, 48 hours of which must be served consecutively.
Once a person has committed four or more BUIs, the crime will be considered a third-degree felony without any time restrictions on when the earlier incidents transpired. The sentence will again include a five-year maximum prison term and a $5,000 maximum fine.
It is important to note that prosecutors can also look at a person’s driving history in order to increase the charges and penalties associated with a BUI in Punta Gorda. Thus, defendants who are convicted of a BUI, but who have prior DUI convictions on their record can face increased penalties. This is true even if the past DUI related offenses took place outside of Florida.
Accidents and Drunk Boating Charges in Punta Gorda, Florida
Consuming alcohol and then operating a boat severely increases the chances of a crash, and in some cases, such accidents result in injuries. In the event that a boat operator in Florida causes a crash or other accident, and the results are minor injuries and property damage, the operator will face first-degree misdemeanor charges, including a jail term of at most one year, and a fine of at most $1,000. This is true even for boaters who have no prior DUIs or BUIs. Again, probation periods may also apply. It is important to note that the boater need not be the only cause of the crash that led to injuries, as long as he or she was one of the causes of the incident.
If the injuries caused by the crash are more severe, then the consequences also become more serious. If the BUI leads to an accident that causes severe bodily harm, then the crime will be defined as a third-degree felony, and the resulting prison time could be as many as five years in prison. The fine also increases to $5,000 in these circumstances. The offender will also face a probationary period.
In BUIs that lead to fatal injuries, the crime becomes BUI manslaughter, and the charges will include a second-degree felony. In these tragic cases, the prison sentence can be for a maximum of fifteen years, and the fine can amount to up to $10,000. A probationary period will also follow. The worst-case scenario occurs when a fatal crash resulting from a BUI takes place, and the drunk boater does not render aid to the victim or report the incident to the authorities. In these cases, which are often hit-and-run boat crashes, the crime is classified as a first-degree felony. The penalties for such an offense will include a possible sentence of 30 years in prison. A probationary period will also follow.
Aggravated Boating Under the Influence Charges in Punta Gorda, Florida
Aggravated charges are situations in which the circumstances surrounding the crime lead to higher penalties. In these cases, the boater engaged in something that made the crime more dangerous, or otherwise worse, as determined through the eyes of the law. Many aggravated BUI charges involve the presence of minors on the vessel at the time of the incident. In these cases, where passengers below eighteen years of age were on board, prosecutors will seek aggravated charges resulting in harsher legal penalties.
Another type of aggravated charge is the result of a person boating with a particularly high BAC. In such cases, the boat operator will not only have a BAC above the legal limit of .08 but above .15, indicating a particularly severe level of inebriation. The judge in such a case could impose a nine-month prison term even for a first time offender. The fine is also increased to $2,000 for a first-time offense if the charges are aggravated. In situations with aggravated charges against a repeat offender, the consequences will be more severe as well.
If the boat operator has a BAC of .15 percent or higher, and the incident is a second-time offense, the crime may be categorized as a first-degree misdemeanor, and the sentence could include one year in prison and a $2,000 fine. Fines increase to $4,000 for additional BUIs, and the prison term remains one year.
When is a Person the “Operator” of a Boat
One of the main aspects that prosecutors must prove in a case against a defendant charged for boating under the influence is that the person was actually operating the vessel. In order to prove that element of the crime, the prosecution need not show that the person was behind the wheel, or actively steering. A boat operator, as defined by Florida BUI law, can be anyone in control of the vessel. If the person is deemed in control of a boat, then he or she can face BUI charges, even in the event that the person was on a boat that was being towed by another boat. There is, therefore, a somewhat broader definition than many people would suspect.
BUI Arrests and Detentions
When a person is placed under arrest for allegedly operating a boat while under the influence, the officers involved have to follow a strict set of rules. Once that individual is in custody, the police must hold the person until one of the following criteria is met:
- The person has regained his or her normal faculties;
- The person has been in custody for a minimum of eight hours from the time of the arrest;
- The individual’s BAC has dropped to at or below .05 percent.
The officers do not have a great deal of discretion in these cases, and must carefully follow such rules.
Investigations of Punta Gorda BUIs
In most cases, BUI charges are filed in the absence of a crash or accident. Of course, in the case of an accident, the investigation will commence as soon as the officers arrive on site.
Police are permitted to stop a boat for a variety of different reasons. Law enforcement has the right to patrol the water and to stop any vessel for the purposes of obtaining the registration and ensuring that the boat has all the necessary safety equipment. Such equipment includes floatation devices. Once the officer has seen that everything is proper, and safety equipment is on board, the stop must come to an end. Another reason that a stop may take place is when the boat operator is in violation of a navigation law. In many situations, the officer may stop a vessel because it was speeding in a no-wake zone.
Once the officer stops the boat for a valid and legitimate reason, he or she is able to take note of things that are in plain view on the vessel. If the officer stops to view the safety equipment and sees that the operator is exhibiting indications of impairment, that officer can further investigate to determine whether the operator committed a BUI. This may take place because the officer notices that the operator’s breath smells like alcohol, or because alcohol is in plain view because the operator is slurring his or her speech, or if the individual appears to be confused.
If the officer notices such indications of impairment, then he or she may request that the boater stop and perform a breathalyzer test or other examinations designed to determine impairment. If the operator fails the sobriety tests or has a BAC above the legal limit, then the officer will have probable cause to place that boater under arrest. In any case where the portable breathalyzer reveals a BAC of .08 percent or more, then that individual will face arrest.
Defending Against a Charlotte County BUI
Prosecutors do not handle BUIs lightly, and will typically seek harsh penalties in these cases as a way to send a message to the public. There are valid defenses to BUI allegations. The proper defense will be heavily dependent upon the specific facts of the case.
A strategy might involve negotiations with the prosecutor to reduce the charges, or it might mean litigating the matter. A qualified Punta Gorda criminal defense attorney will be able to defend against charges and explain the potential consequences of different strategies.
There are often weaknesses in the state’s case against a boater. In some instances, the rights of the suspect were violated, and the attorney may be able to eliminate evidence that was not properly obtained. Such cases can result in the dismissal of charges because the state no longer has enough evidence to prove that the defendant is guilty. In other cases, the breathalyzer may not have been properly calibrated, leading to faulty results. The facts of each case will vary. An attorney will be able to review the case and determine the best course of action.
Musca Law is Ready to Defend You and Safeguard Your Future
At Musca Law, our experienced criminal defense attorneys are ready to take on your case and to defend you against BUI charges. Our lawyers handle all varieties of serious criminal charges and know how to navigate the court system, and what to look for when defending against criminal charges.
Facing BUI charges can be frightening. Our Punta Gorda defense attorneys are here to ensure that your rights are protected. We are ready to work on a strategy that fits your needs. Call us today at 888-484-5057 to for a free consultation with one of our BUI defense attorneys.