Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Defense Lawyers in Vero Beach, Florida
Vero Beach is a small Florida city, with beautiful Atlantic-facing beaches on a barrier island across the Indian River Lagoon. It is home to approximately 17,236 people, many of whom enjoy boating in the Vero Beach area. Vero Beach is also a popular tourist destination within the state of Florida. Accordingly, visitors and Vero Beach residents alike often like to go fishing, view wildlife, hunt, engage in pleasure boating, and pursue other activates in Vero Beach that, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, boosts the state’s economy to the tune of $20 billion dollars and creates over 300,000 jobs. That is why Florida law enforcement heavily patrols the Vero Beach waters to ensure the safety of boaters.
The Dangers Associated With Boating Under the Influence
It is not illegal in Florida to operate a vessel and drink a minimal amount of alcohol. Akin to operating a motor vehicle, boating after consuming alcohol is not always crime. However, it becomes a criminal offense if the operator of the vessel has a BAC of 0.08%. It does not take a lot of alcohol to reach a BAC of 0.08%, which can result in a person being criminally prosecuted.
Alcohol is associated with the most boating deaths across the nation. Per the United States Coast Guard, about 16% of all boating deaths may be caused by the consumption of alcohol. Boating under the influence, or BUI, is associated with extreme risks, the same as driving a car while impaired. When a person is impaired while boating, his or her time to react is slow, he or she becomes prey to distractions, he or she loses the ability to appreciate the dangers of boating, and his or her ability to ascertain his or her speed is dramatically reduced. Also, a boater’s spatial cognition is also negatively affected.
A boater can also be affected by environmental factors that can amplify alcohol’s effect on the body. Specifically, crashing waves, the vibration of the boat’s motor, sun, and wind can dramatically affect an impaired boater’s ability to safely operate a boat.
Boaters often do not appreciate how dangerous it can be to engage in boating, even when they ae completely sober. It is important to realize that the consumption of alcohol also may impair a boater’s ability to observe sunken hazards or falling trees, prevent him or her from appreciating the weather, lose his or her ability to accurately steer the boat, and be able to judge the speed and distance of other boats on the water.
Boaters can forget how dangerous being on the water is sober, never mind after having a couple of beers. Boating after taking alcohol might prevent the operator from observing fallen trees or sunken hazards, not appreciating rapidly-changing weather, or losing the ability to steer the boat accurately or judge the distance and speed of an approaching craft.
The Prosecution of BUI in Indian River County
Pursuant to Florida Statutes §327.35, the prosecution can seek imprisonment, hefty monetary fines, and onerous probation conditions when a person is charged with BUI. Keep in mind that the burden on the prosecution is to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. This standard is guaranteed by the United States and Florida Constitutions. In other words, the prosecution has the burden of beyond a reasonable doubt when producing evidence and persuading the jury that the boat operator was impaired by drugs, alcohol, or both, the operator of the boat had a BAC of 0.08 grams per 100 milliliters of blood, or the operator had 0.08 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath as prescribed by Section 327.35.
The Penalties Associated with a BUI in Vero Beach
Under Section 327.35, it provides that a judge may impose the penalties associated with BUI in Vero Beach. For a first time offender, the judge may order that he or she should be subject to a prison term for up to six months in a county jail, including a monetary fine of up to $1,000. The sentencing judge may order the defendant to undergo a maximum probationary period of one year, as well as community service, and substance abuse treatment.
A second BUI offense is associated with a nine-month prison term in county jail and a monetary fine up to $2,000. The judge has a minimum sentencing guideline providing that the offender must spend at least ten days in prison if the first BUI conviction happened within five years before the instant conviction. The offender must serve 48 hours of said prison term on a consecutive basis.
A third BUI offense constitutes either a first-degree misdemeanor or a third-degree felony, which is dependent upon when the past offense occurred. A first-degree misdemeanor is associated with a maximum one-year jail term. A third-degree felony carries with it a five-year jail term and a monetary fine of up to $5,000. Keep in mind that the judge has a requirement to impose a 30-day prison sentence, with 48 hours that must be served on a consecutive basis.
Subsequent BUI offenses constitute a third-degree felony without the requirement for the timing of the previous convictions. As noted above, the offender will face a maximum five-year prison term and a maximum fine of $5,000.
Under Florida law, it enables the prosecution to apply a number of different impairment-related crimes to enhance a person’s penalties. This means that if a driver has been convicted of DUI, DUI Manslaughter, DUI that caused an accident, or DUI resulting in bodily injury, this could result in sentencing enhancements. Also, said charges in other states are applicable in this regard.
Accidents Stemming from BUIs in Vero Beach
It goes without saying that boating while impaired increases the chances of an accident. In Florida, if a person is boating while impaired and causes an accident resulting in minor injuries or property damage, then he or she will face a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries with it a jail term of up to one year and a maximum $1,000 monetary fine. The offender may also face probation. A conviction for this charge only applies if the alleged offender is the cause of the accident, and he or she does not need to be the sole cause of same.
The consequences become increasingly harsh as the severity of the injuries increase. A BUI associated with an accident that resulted in severe bodily injury constitutes a felony in the third degree, which carries with it a prison term of up to five years, a monetary fine of up to $5,000, and probation.
If a person dies in a BUI-related accident, also known as BUI manslaughter, it is charged as a felony in the second degree. This carries with it a jail term of up to fifteen years, a maximum monetary fine of up to $10,000, and probation. This charge can be elevated to a first-degree felony if the impaired boater failed to render aid to an injury victim or self-identify (in the case of a hit-and-run). A first-degree felony is associated with a 30-year prison term and probation.
Aggravated BUI in Vero Beach
BUIs in Florida can become “aggravated” in certain cases when the conduct in question is deemed more severe or dangerous. Aggravated BUI charges will be sought when an individual is impaired and minors (children under the age of eighteen) are onboard the vessel, and if a boater’s BAC is 0.15% or more. In both circumstances, the judge could rule that the offender face a prison term for nine months and impose a monetary fine of up to $2,000. The penalties also may lead to an aggravated BUI charge as the offense becomes more severe or if the offender is a recidivist.
Keep in mind that a second BUI charge for having a BAC of 0.15% or more is a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries with it a one-year prison term along with a harsh monetary fine of up to $2,000. Subsequent offenses have the same prison term however, the fine increases to up to $4,000.
What is “Operation” Under Florida Law?
Operation does not just mean that a boater is behind the wheel. It can also apply when a person has control over the vessel, even if he or she is not steering it. In fact, the operator, or person in command of the boat, could be charged with a BUI even if the boat is being towed by another boat or is being pushed. Being deemed an operator also applies when a person has command of a vessel, even when he or she is not being directly controlled by another person on board the watercraft.
Law Enforcement has No Discretion in a BUI-Related Offense
When law enforcement places a person is suspected of BUI, they have no wiggle room when charging someone for this offense. This means that law enforcement must arrest the alleged perpetrator and not release him or her until (i) he or she has regained his or her normal faculties; (ii) eight hours have gone by since the time when the arrest occurred; or (iii) the person has a BUI of 0.05% or less.
Investigations for BUIs in Vero Beach
An investigation for BUI commences at the crash scene or other occurrence requiring emergency provisions. However, the majority of BUI-related arrests do not involve accidents.
Law enforcement has the discretion to patrol Vero Beach waters and to stop a boater to show him or her the boat’s safety devices (such as flotation devices) as well as the boat’s registration. The officer must cease his or her investigation once these conditions have been satisfied. However, keep in mind that law enforcement can stop a boater if he or she violates the laws of navigation, including speeding in a “No Wake Zone.”
Just like stops with motor vehicles, the police do not discount things that they see in plain view of a boat. Even if the officer is observing whether the vessel is complying with safety and registration requirements, they also look for signs of impairment. In this instance, the officer has the right to investigate the matter further, especially if he or she smells alcohol on the operator’s breath, sees alcohol and drugs in plain view, the operator seems to be confused, or is slurring his or her speech.
If this occurs, the officer can request that the boater pull over the vessel to conduct a portable breath test as well as sobriety tests. Failing these tests provides the officer with the authority, due to probable cause, to arrest the boater. Keep in mind that if the portable breath test reveals that the operator has a BAC of 0.08% or greater, he or she will be placed under arrest.
Applicable Defenses in Vero Beach BUI Cases
Law enforcement and the prosecution alike take cases involving BUI very seriously. Vero Beach prosecutors often seek the harshest penalties allowable under Florida law, which is meant to send a message to the public that BUIs are simply not worth it and won’t be tolerated.
A skilled Vero Beach BUI Defense Attorney will examine the weaknesses and strengths of the matter and put together a strong defense strategy that applies to the facts and circumstances of the case. An experienced Vero Beach BUI Defense Attorney evaluates the client’s wishes as to how to proceed. Specifically, some individuals accused of BUI would rather obtain the best deal possible and move on rather than litigate the case. Hence, in some cases, negotiating with the prosecutor may provide the best defense, while in other cases, it is appropriate to engage in the litigation of the matter.
BUI cases are not impossible to defend. There may exist certain weaknesses that the defense attorney can present to the prosecution, which could result in an acquittal, dismissal of the case, or a favorable plea bargain. A proper defense may also apply if law enforcement violated the operator’s constitutional rights by detaining him or her for an unreasonable about of time. If this occurs, then the judge must dispose of all evidence that was collected by the arresting officer. What this means is that the prosecution cannot use the evidence at trial. Evidence may also become lost, which could amount to a reduction or dismissal of all charges. Another defense applies if law enforcement did not properly conduct a field sobriety test or failed to calibrate the portable breath device. Keep in mind that each case is different, which means that the facts and circumstances dictate which defense may apply in one’s case.
Let Musca Law’s BUI Defense Attorneys Make a Difference for You!
We encourage all our clients to hire legal counsel in the face of criminal charges, and BUI charges are no exception. Because of the nuances involved in BUI law in Florida, it can be difficult to navigate the proceedings and unpack the allegations. You need experienced attorneys, like those at Musca Law, to defend your liberties and fight the state’s case against you. There is too much on the line to try to defend yourself alone. You can schedule a free case consultation with one of our Vero Beach Defense Attorneys today by calling 888-484-5057.