Florida holds boaters to the same sobriety standards as drivers. Boating under the influence (BUI) laws give ample leeway and discretion to officers, making it quite easy to face charges for this serious violation. People charged with BUI face jail time and fines if convicted, not to mention vessel impoundment and a permanent stain on their record.
If you have been accused of BUI, call our boating under the influence lawyers in Pinellas County, FL at Goldman Wetzel at 727-828-3900. We can steer you through the court process and may be able to get your charges dropped or the penalties reduced.
Important BUI Rules in Florida
If you have been charged with BUI, there are a few details about boating under the influence laws in Florida that you should know:
- You do not have to blow a 0.08 or higher to face BUI charges. In Florida, there are three ways an officer can arrest you for BUI: 1) The officer thinks that your “normal faculties are impaired” due to alcohol or drugs, 2) Your blood-alcohol level is 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood; or 3) Your breath-alcohol level is 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.
- The officer does not need probable cause to stop and board your vessel. This means you cannot use lack of probable cause or unlawful search and seizure as defenses to BUI. Unlike roadway officers, the Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Marine Patrol can stop any boater at any time to check for registration and enforce safety regulations. Once aboard, if they see alcohol or suspect the operator is impaired, they can investigate for BUI and perform sobriety tests.
- Aggravating factors can elevate a BUI to a felony offense. Having prior BUIs or DUIs on your record, or causing injury, property damage, or death while operating your boat can upgrade the offense to a serious felony and greatly magnify the penalties, including a long stretch in state prison.
- You have defense options available to fight a BUI charge. You do not have to plead guilty and just accept whatever penalties the court doles out. Several defense strategies can successfully beat or mitigate BUI charges. Exercise your right to speak to a criminal attorney and contact our office to discuss your legal options today.
Penalties for BUI in Florida
The penalties for BUI, outlined in Florida Statute § 327.35, include imprisonment, probation, vessel impoundment, fines, community service, and drug/alcohol assessment, and treatment. Repeat offenders face mandatory minimum jail time.
Penalties depend on whether you have any prior convictions and whether the case involved aggravating factors. Below is a brief overview:
Up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, and a 10-day vessel impoundment.
Up to nine months in jail, a $2,000 fine, and a 30-day vessel impoundment. If your prior BUI occurred less than five years ago, the court will impose a mandatory 10-day jail sentence.
Up to one year in jail, a $5,000 fine, and a 90-day vessel impoundment. If your last BUI occurred less than 10 years ago, the state will label the violation as a third-degree felony, elevating the sentence to five years in prison with a mandatory 30-day minimum.
Fourth and Subsequent BUI
Up to five years in prison with a 30-day minimum sentence, a $5,000 fine, and a 90-day vessel impoundment. Fourth and subsequent BUIs are automatically third-degree felonies, regardless of when your last BUI occurred.
BUI with Injury or Property Damage
First-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a $1,000 fine, and restitution.
BUI with Serious Bodily Injury
Third-degree felony, with penalties including up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and a 90-day vessel impoundment.
BUI with Death (BUI Manslaughter)
Second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Failing to render aid escalates the offense to a first-degree felony, doubling the potential prison sentence.
Available Defenses for BUI Charges
Numerous defenses to BUI may apply to your case. One of the most common is the negative defense that the accused was not impaired, but rather experiencing the effects of boating. Sun exposure, heat, exhaustion, seasickness, dehydration, etc. can cause red eyes, lightheadedness, loss of balance, stumbling, and slow reaction time, which the officer may incorrectly perceive as impairment.
Other defenses to BUI include:
- The defendant was a passenger, not the vessel operator.
- The officer improperly administered the sobriety test.
- The breathalyzer was defective.
We will explore all possible strategies and create a plan of action that suits your case best. Call our firm as soon as possible to get started. The more time we have to gather evidence and build a strong case, the better the chances of a positive outcome.
Ways Goldman Wetzel Can Help with BUI Defense in Pinellas County
When you enlist the help of our BUI defense attorneys, we will provide the legal advice, support, and aggressive representation you need to face the court process confidently.
Goldman Wetzel is a full-service defense firm, which means we can assist with all aspects of a BUI case, from the initial run-in with the law until the case closes. You can count on us to:
- Explain and protect your rights.
- Investigate the incident and gather supporting evidence.
- Look for errors in the way law enforcement or the prosecution has handled the case.
- Develop a comprehensive defense strategy.
- Handle the legal paperwork, motions, and documentation.
- Prepare for and attend all hearings with you.
- Negotiate with the state to drop the charges or reduce the penalties, if possible.
- Push for the best possible outcome during pre-trial and trial.
FREE Consult with a BUI Defense Lawyer in Pinellas County, FL
Our BUI defense lawyers in Pinellas County are ready to jump in and fight for you. Contact Goldman Wetzel at 727-828-3900 and request a free consultation today.