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Boating Under the Influence: What is the New "Probable Cause" Law?

Can you picture yourself boating through Biscayne Bay or the Miami River on a beautiful sunny day with the perfect breeze helping you beat the heat? In this image, are you holding a Pina colada, daiquiri or perhaps just an ice cold beer? If so, you are not alone. One of life’s great pleasures is imbibing on the water: but did you know you can get in trouble for drinking and operating a watercraft just as you can while drinking and driving a car? In fact, the intoxication level required for a BUI is the same as that for a DUI.

According to Florida law, a person can be convicted of boating under the influence (“BUI”) if their blood-alcohol level or breath-alcohol level registers 0.08 or more. The first time you are convicted of a BUI, you may be facing a $1000 fine or up to 6 months in jail. The second conviction brings a $2000 fine and up to 9 months in jail. If you are convicted of boating under the influence for a third time in the state of Florida you’re facing a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail. If you unintentionally kill someone while boating under the influence, you are looking at manslaughter charges that can bring up to 15 years in prison.

Until earlier this year, local law enforcement could pull a boat over without cause, but interestingly, on July 1, 2016, House Bill CS 703 went into effect. Dubbed the “probable cause” law, it prohibits state law enforcement officers from pulling a vessel over if the vessel is displaying the appropriate inspection decal in the correct manner.

Does the New Law Bar All Law Enforcement Officers from Pulling Me Over if I have the State Issued Decal?

Simply put, no. What this law does not do is prevent a boat from being pulled over for reasons outside of the scope of safety. HB 703 amends Sections 327.70 of the Florida Statutes. Subsection 2 contains the additional language that provides for the inspection decal, and although the law is nicknamed by some as the “probable cause” law, the statute language itself uses the term “reasonable suspicion,” indicating that a vessel may be pulled over if the enforcement officer reasonably suspects a safety violation has occurred or is occurring. How the courts may translate this term in the context of the new subsection added to the statue is still to be determined. It is important to note also that the law does not apply to the Coast Guard or other federal agencies and if they suspect someone of BUI, they may choose to notify local law enforcement.

BUI cases are as complex as DUI cases and the Miami office of Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A., has extensive experience in intoxication cases that result in charges ranging from misdemeanor all the way to BUI cases resulting in death. Contact us today for an immediate consultation. With over 40 years of experience, we can help you.

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