Florida considers boating under the influence (BUI) as serious an offense as driving under the influence. If Marine Patrol, Coast Guard, FCC, or local police officers decide to board a vessel and suspect the operator is intoxicated, they can arrest him for BUI on the spot and impound the boat. And if convicted, the operator faces jail time and steep fines.
Not all BUI cases stand up in court, however. Our team of boating under the influence lawyers in Tampa, FL has used various defenses that have resulted in dropped charges or reduced penalties. If you or a loved one has been charged with BUI in Tampa, call Goldman Wetzel today at 813-391-8051 for a free consult with one of our attorneys to learn how we can help you with your case.
Goldman Wetzel Fights BUI Charges in Tampa
Our team of defense lawyers has developed the strategies necessary to successfully manage any type of BUI case in Tampa and throughout Florida. We will quickly assess the evidence against you, create a solid defense, and get to work on bringing about the best possible result.
Below are just a few of the BUI cases we have handled:
- First-time BUI offenders;
- Out-of-state vacationers;
- Recreational or commercial BUIs;
- BUIs involving any kind of vessel, e.g., jet ski, wave runner;
- Offenders with multiple BUIs/DUIs on their record; and
- BUIs involving boating accidents;
- BUIs involving property damage, injuries or death (BUI manslaughter).
How BUI Charges Work in Florida
Per Florida Statute § 327.35(1), there are two distinct standards an officer in Florida can use to decide whether a boater is intoxicated:
- BAC Standard: Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) standards for vessel operators are the same as they are for drivers: blowing a 0.08 or more equals intoxication. (Note: Florida has zero tolerance for underage drinking. If an operator under the age of 21 has any measurable alcohol in their system, i.e., a BAC of 0.02 higher, the state considers it BUI.)
- Behavioral Standard: Because street drugs, prescription drugs, or a combination of drugs and alcohol can cause intoxication and leave the operator with a BAC within the normal range, the law provides that a person has committed BUI when she “is under the influence of alcoholic beverages or any controlled substance when affected to the extent that [her] normal faculties are impaired.”
Officers can board a vessel at any time without probable cause. They can — and often do — routinely stop boaters simply to check for fishing licenses and safety equipment. While on board, if the officers see that the operator’s speech, disposition, movements, appearance, or behavior seem off, or if they see any open containers on board, they can demand a breath test and/or physical sobriety exercises.
Penalties for BUI in Florida
If convicted of BUI, the penalties can include jail time, fines, probation, vessel impoundment, community service, and drug/alcohol evaluation and treatment. The exact sentence you may receive if convicted depends on several factors, such as whether you have any prior BUIs or DUIs on your record and whether there were any injuries or deaths involved.
- First-time BUI: Up to six months in the local county jail, one year of probation, a $1,000 fine, and a 10-day vessel impoundment.
- Second BUI: Jail time increases to a maximum of nine months and the state will impound your vessel for 30 days. If your first BUI was less than five years ago, the judge will also impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 days in jail.
- Third BUI: Up to one year in state prison, a $5,000 fine, and a 90-day vessel impoundment. If the last BUI occurred less than 10 years ago, the state automatically escalates the offense to a third-degree felony. This includes a prison sentence between 30 days (mandatory) and five years.
- BUI Causing Injury: If the operator was intoxicated and caused someone injury, the state will pursue third-degree felony charges.
- BUI Manslaughter: If the operator was intoxicated and caused someone fatal injuries, the state labels the offense as a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine.
Defending Against BUI Charges
Our attorneys will work together on your BUI case and determine the most advantageous approach. Depending on the facts of your case, we might be able to convince the prosecutor to drop or reduce the charges. When that is not possible, we will compile supporting evidence and prepare to promote your best interests at the hearing.
Some of the possible defenses to BUI include:
- You were not impaired. Perhaps you were experiencing the effects of sun exposure, heat exhaustion, dehydration, tiredness, seasickness, etc. and the officer mistook your symptoms as intoxication.
- You were not driving the vessel. Only operators (designated drivers) face BUI charges. Passengers are allowed to imbibe.
- There were errors with the BAC results, e.g., defective breathalyzer, improper administration of the test, etc.
- The officer failed to use appropriate physical sobriety tests for vessel operators.
Each case is unique and requires a personalized defense strategy for maximum effectiveness. Contact our firm and let us create a plan of action with the highest potential to keep you out of jail.
Call Goldman Wetzel BUI Attorneys Today
We have three offices in three different counties to better serve our clients, one of which is conveniently located in Tampa. If you were charged with BUI in Tampa, the county will hold your hearing at the Hillsborough County Courthouse, regardless of the state or county in which you reside. Our attorneys are very familiar with the prosecutors and judges there and how BUI cases usually unfold.
With BUI charges, there is a lot on the line. Fortunately, you have legal and defense options available. You do not have to plead guilty and accept harsh penalties. We can walk you through the court process, represent you at each hearing, talk to the prosecutor on your behalf, and help you make informed decisions about your case.