Florida statutes criminalize boating under the influence (BUI) and provide for harsh penalties when convicted. This is the state’s way of addressing and discouraging the magnitude of boating accidents that occur in Florida each year. Florida leads the nation in recreational boating accidents. In 2012, there were 662 reported boating accidents in Florida, nearly double that of the state ranked second for boating accidents (California), according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Many of these accidents are attributed to alcohol use. If you have been arrested or charged with boating under the influence, it is in your best interest to speak with a BUI defense lawyer in St. Petersburg at Goldman Wetzel. Our firm offers a free consultation and also helps those in need of defense in Tampa and Bradenton.
BUI Laws in Florida
It is not illegal to consume a drink prior to operating a vessel, nor is it illegal to have open containers of alcohol on your vessel. You cannot, however, operate your vessel while intoxicated. Specifically, Florida Statute 327.35 provides that a person is guilty of a BUI if he or she operates a vessel in the state’s waters, and any one of the following is true:
- blood-alcohol level is 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood,
- breath-alcohol level is 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath, or
- the operator is under the influence of alcohol or drugs “to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired.”
Defending against BUI Charges in St. Petersburg and Tampa
There are several defenses that may be applicable to a BUI case. For instance, note the last bullet point above: You can be charged with a BUI if the FWC officer believes you are intoxicated to the point that your normal faculties are impaired. However, there are numerous factors that can affect your faculties and may increase the effect of alcohol, such as the sun, dehydration, wind conditions, etc. Because there is a certain amount of discretion involved in determining the extent of intoxication, a judgment error on the officer’s part is quite possible.
Officials may make mistakes when administering a breathalyzer test or when taking blood samples or there may be flaws with the testing devices itself or when transporting the sample. If you have been charged with a BUI, you are welcome to call our defense team at Goldman Wetzel for help defending against the charges. We will review the circumstances of your case and determine the best way to obtain the best possible outcome for you.
Keep in mind that it is important to speak to an attorney before you provide any statements to the FWC officer, Coast Guard, local law enforcement officer or any other official. You don’t want to say anything that could incriminate you.
Penalties for BUI in St. Petersburg and Tampa
A first-time conviction for a BUI can mean a $1,000 fine and up to six months’ imprisonment. A second conviction can mean a $2,000 fine and nine months’ imprisonment. On the fourth BUI, the state upgrades the charges to a third-degree felony, which means five years’ imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.
If the vessel operator was under the influence and caused damage to someone’s property or injury or death to someone, the charges and penalties will increase. BUI-related damage to property, for example, is considered a first-degree misdemeanor, and BUI-related death (manslaughter) is considered a second-degree felony.
With a solid defense, it’s possible that BUI charges may be mitigated or dropped, or penalties may be reduced. For a free legal consultation with a BUI defense attorney in St. Petersburg, Tampa or Bradenton, call Goldman Wetzel today at 727-828-3900.