Drunk driving and DUI charges are most often associated with cars or other land-based vehicles. But under Florida and federal law, you can also face serious consequences if you are caught boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In fact, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, a person operating a boat “is likely to become impaired more quickly” than a motorist, and alcohol is a factor “in about a third of all recreational boating fatalities.”
The Law in Florida
Boating under the influence (BUI) is categorized as a separate offense from DUI. Under Section 327.35 of the Florida Statutes, a person commits BUI when they operate a “vessel” within the state while “under the influence of alcoholic beverages” or any other controlled substance. Similar to DUI, prosecutors can prove a boater was under the influence if his or her blood- or breath-alcohol level was measured at 0.08 percent or higher. Even if a person is below this limit, they may still be guilty of BUI if other evidence proves their “normal faculties [were] impaired” due to the use of drugs or alcohol.
A first-time BUI conviction will result in a fine of between $500 and $1,000, as well as up to 6 months in jail. Following a second conviction, the penalties increase to a fine of between $1,000 and $2,000 and up to 9 months in jail. A third conviction will lead to a fine of between $2,000 and $5,000 and up to 12 months in jail. However, if the third BUI conviction occurs within 10 years of a prior conviction, it is treated as a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment.
The above penalties assume that there were no injuries to persons or property as a result of the BUI. If there is such damage then the penalties are significantly harsher. For example, a BUI that causes “serious bodily injury” to another person is automatically charged as a third-degree felony, even if it is the defendant’s first offense. And if BUI results in death, it may be considered “BUI manslaughter,” a first-degree felony. There are further penalty “enhancements” in the BUI law for boaters who had an exceptionally high blood-alcohol level of were traveling with minors.
Will a BUI Conviction Affect My Driver’s License?
If you are convicted of a DUI, any prior BUI offenses will count against you in assessing penalties. In other words, if you are convicted of BUI and later receive a DUI, the court will treat the DUI as a second offense. Among other things, this can lengthen the maximum term of your driver’s license suspension from 1 year to 5 years.
Along the same lines, a prior DUI will count as a prior offense in any subsequent BUI case. This is why you need to take any DUI or BUI charge seriously, as a conviction will have long-term consequences for your rights and civil liberties. If you need assistance from an experienced Orlando criminal defense lawyer in dealing with a boating under the influence case, contact the offices of Moses & Rooth, Attorneys at Law, today at 407-377-0150.