Florida is one of the most popular destinations for commercial and recreational boating in the country. In fact, there are nearly 100,000 recreational vessels registered throughout the State. However, with more vessels on Florida waterways comes more risk. Boating accidents occur year-round and can have devastating consequences both for victims and perpetrators of this crime.
Operating a boat whilst under the influence of alcohol or another chemical substance can come with serious consequences, including fines, imprisonment, and a conviction which can range from a low-level misdemeanor all the way up to a first-degree felony. A BUI conviction will also land you with a criminal record.
If you’re facing a BUI charge in Port Charlotte, you’ll need to work with a Florida law firm experienced in these types of cases. Here at The Law Place, our team works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to support our clients, help them understand their rights, and achieve favorable case outcomes. We also have a strong track record in fighting BUI criminal charges across the State of Florida.
A positive attorney, client relationship is important to us here at The Law Place. We want you to be confident that you’re working with the right legal representation before you commit to our law firm. That’s why we offer a free consultation to all of our new clients. Call today for your free case evaluation with a Florida BUI defense lawyer near you on (941) 444-4444.
Florida Law and Boating Under the Influence
According to Florida Statute 327.35, it is illegal to operate a vessel if you are under the influence of or significantly impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Some important legal definitions for this include:
- ‘Operating’ – Florida law considers ‘operating’ a boat as being in control of, steering, or driving a watercraft on any of Florida’s waterways.
- ‘Under the influence of alcohol’ – A boat operator will be deemed under the influence of alcohol if they have blood alcohol or breath alcohol levels of 0.08 per 100 milliliters of blood or per 210 liters of breath or higher.
- ‘Vessel’ – Under Florida law, a vessel is any kind of boat or watercraft operational on a waterway in the State. This includes personal and commercial boats, seaplanes, jet skis, and even non-motorized vehicles such as canoes and kayaks.
- ‘Impaired’ – Impairment is judged to have occurred if an individual’s normal faculties have been affected in a way that makes them an unsafe boat operator. This includes factors such as eyesight, hearing, ability to make safe decisions, and reaction times.
- ‘Drugs’ – It is illegal for a boat operator to take or use any controlled substance as laid out in Florida Statute 877.111.
Florida Boating Accident Statistics
In recent years, Florida has led the United States in boating accident numbers, according to reports from the U.S. Coast Guard. Florida also typically has the highest number of boating accidents derived from alcohol use across the country.
- In 2020, drugs and alcohol caused 6% of all Florida boat accidents.
- Around 22% of boat accident victims become seriously injured.
- Florida typically sees the highest number of boating fatalities in the country.
- Alcohol and drug use contributed to 23% of all boating accident fatalities in 2020.
- In 2020 there were nearly 1,000 reported boating incidents in the State.
Penalties and Criminal Charges for Boating Under the Influence in Port Charlotte
Florida Statute 327.35 lays out the exact penalties you could receive from boating under the influence in the State of Florida. This largely comes down to how many convictions you have previously received for a crime of this nature.
First-Time BUI Charge
For a first-time BUI conviction, you may receive:
- A $500 to $1,000 fine and imprisonment for up to 6 months for a blood or breath alcohol level of 0.08 or above.
- A $1,000 to $2,000 fine and imprisonment for up to 9 months for a blood or breath alcohol level of 0.15 or above, or if a minor was a passenger on the vessel at the time of the accident.
- A first-degree misdemeanor charge if property damage was also caused. This is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 1 year in prison.
- A third-degree felony charge if another person was seriously injured. This is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 5 years of jail time.
- A second-degree felony charge if another person was killed. This is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 15 years in prison.
- A first-degree felony charge if another person was killed or injured and you fled the scene of the crime. This is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 30 years of jail time.
- Up to 1 year of probation.
- Up to 50 hours of community service.
- Substance abuse course attendance.
Second-Time BUI Charge
In addition to many of the penalties for a first-time offense, for a second-time BUI conviction, you may also receive:
- A $1,000 to $2,000 fine and imprisonment for up to 9 months for a breath or blood alcohol level of 0.08 or above.
- A fine of between $2,000 and $4,000 and imprisonment for up to 12 months for a blood or breath alcohol level of 0.15 or above.
- An impoundment or immobilization of your vessel for up to 30 days.
- Mandatory minimum imprisonment of 10 days.
Third-Time BUI Charge
In addition to many of the penalties for a first- and second-time offense, for a third BUI conviction, you could also receive:
- A third-degree felony charge, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 5 years of jail time for a third offense that occurs within 10 years of the previous offenses.
- A fine of between $2,000 and $5,000 and imprisonment for up to 1 year for a third-time offense that occurs more than 10 years after the previous offenses.
- Mandatory minimum imprisonment of 30 days.
- An impoundment or immobilization of your vessel of up to 90 days.
Other Factors Which Affect BUI Penalties
The exact penalty you may receive from boating under the influence in Port Charlotte, Florida, depends on the specifics of your case. Your conviction could be more or less severe depending on:
- Whether you were judged to be excessively under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. This can be the case if you had a breath or blood alcohol concentration level of 0.15 or higher.
- The severity of injuries caused to another individual.
- Whether or not property damage was also caused by the accident.
- Whether you were driving recklessly or speeding.
Regardless of the specifics of your case, you should always work with a Port Charlotte criminal defense attorney experienced in BUI charges.
Causing a Serious Bodily Injury by Boating in Port Charlotte, FL?
Under Florida law, a serious bodily injury is one that causes:
- Significant risk of death.
- Significant disfigurement.
- Damage to any organ.
- Damage to the brain
If you cause a serious injury to another individual whilst boating, it’s possible for the injured party to file a claim or a lawsuit against you in order to receive compensation. In this case, it’s important to understand your rights and your legal obligations under Florida’s personal injury laws.
Will I Get Sued for Causing an Injury by Boating Under the Influence?
If you have caused a serious bodily injury to another individual by operating a vessel whilst intoxicated, it is possible that you could be sued. In this case, you will be facing a personal injury lawsuit from the injured party.
In order to pursue a negligence lawsuit against you, the prosecution will need to prove that:
- You owed another individual a duty of care.
- You breached this duty of care by acting or failing to act accordingly.
- Significant personal injury was caused to another individual as a direct result of this breach.
In addition to facing criminal charges, if you are judged to be negligent in a personal injury lawsuit, you could be liable to pay for damages including:
- The plaintiff’s medical expenses including doctors’ fees, medication charges, and rehabilitation costs.
- The plaintiffs lost wages as a result of their injuries.
- Non-economic damages, including pain and suffering.
- Property damage.
Understanding Your Rights in a BUI Case
If you’ve been stopped by law enforcement in the State of Florida for boating whilst intoxicated, or if you have caused a BUI accident, it’s important to be aware of your rights. This will make sure you act in accordance with the law but also that you don’t incriminate yourself unnecessarily. This should lead to a more favorable case outcome.
Law Enforcement Waterway Stops
Unlike a driving under the influence traffic stop, police do not need to have probable cause in order to stop your vessel. This means that the U.S. Coast Guard and local law enforcement can come aboard a vessel any time to perform safety inspections regardless of whether they suspect that a crime is taking place. Therefore, if you are told to stop your boat by one of these authorities, you are required to do so or risk a penalty.
Treatment by Law Enforcement Officers
Florida Statute 776.05 states that law enforcement officers in the State of Florida must only use a reasonable amount of force when pursuing, arresting, or handling individuals suspected of a crime. This does permit them to use firearms, tasers, and other weapons such as batons. However, they must not use excessive force.
Under Florida Statute 327.353, you may also be required to take a breathalyzer or blood test if an officer suspects that you are intoxicated.
You will be required to provide certain information to officers at the scene of the crime. This could include details such as your name, address, vessel registration as well as insurance details. Failure to comply with this will result in further penalties, including higher fines and a potentially lengthened sentence.
However, it is your Fifth Amendment right to withhold any information which may incriminate you. Law enforcement is also required to make you aware of your Miranda rights if you are being taken into custody.
How Can a Port Charlotte BUI Criminal Defense Lawyer Defend Me?
It’s important to work with the right law firm if you’re facing BUI charges in Port Charlotte, Florida. This will make sure you receive proper legal advice, understand your rights, and will achieve a better case outcome than trying to navigate a complex area of Florida law on your own.
Criminal defense attorneys can use a number of techniques in order to defend you in court and attempt to have your charges downgraded or dropped altogether:
Your attorney could choose to question the results of a breathalyzer test. Often, the equipment used to perform this test is outdated and can provide inaccurate results. If it can be proved that the breathalyzer used in your breath exam was not entirely accurate, this could lead to evidence being dropped.
Questioning Police Treatment
It is also possible to investigate the way you were treated by law enforcement officers. If it can be proved that the officers in your case used an excessive amount of force in order to apprehend and detain you, this could be grounds for a case/evidence dismissal or a reduction of penalties.
In addition, if they failed to properly recite the Miranda warnings to you or violated your Fifth Amendment right to avoid providing self-incriminating evidence in their questioning, this could also lead to inadmissible evidence.
When an accident occurs, it can often be difficult to work out who was actually operating or steering a boat. In many cases, police officers can wrongfully identify a passenger on a vessel as a driver. However, it is not illegal to be intoxicated as a passenger on a boat as long as you are acting in a way that is safe, legal, and non-distracting to the captain.
If you have been wrongfully arrested for boating under the influence and you were not in control of the vessel, you’ll need to work with a criminal defense attorney skilled in litigation in order to defend you in court and to prove your innocence.
Contact The Law Place for a Free Consultation Today
If you’ve been caught operating a boat whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs in the State of Florida, whether or not you have caused an accident or injury, get in touch with The Law Place today.
We’re a Florida law firm committed to offering expert legal advice and round-the-clock support to our clients. Our Port Charlotte attorneys have a number of practice areas, including personal injury, boating crimes, traffic crimes, medical malpractice, and more. We have significant experience winning cases like yours all over the State of Florida and can help even if you have previous similar convictions on your criminal record.
We also offer a free consultation, so you can be sure you’re working with the best lawyer for you and your case. We’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to take your call. So, call today to speak to one of our BUI criminal defense attorneys on (941) 444-4444.