What is Boating under the influence or BUI?
First its important to understand what the definition of boating under the influence (BUI) is:
Operation of a vessel in a reckless manner / Operation of a vessel while under the influence – RCW 79A.06.040 states (1) It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a vessel in a reckless manner. (2) It shall be a violation for a person to operate a vessel while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug. A person is considered to be under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug if: (a) The person has 0.08 grams or more of alcohol per two hundred ten liters of breath, as shown by analysis of the person’s breath made under RCW 46.61.506; or (b) The person has 0.08 percent or more by weight of alcohol in the person’s blood, as shown by analysis of the person’s blood made under RCW 46.61.506; or (c) The person is under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor or any drug; or(d) The person is under the combined influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor and any drug.” Connect with one of our DUI Attorneys today for help.
Operation of a vessel in a negligent manner – RCW 79A.06.030 states A person shall not operate a vessel in a negligent manner. For the purposes of this section, to “operate in a negligent manner” means operating a vessel in disregard of careful and prudent operation, or in disregard of careful and prudent rates of speed that are no greater than is reasonable and proper under the conditions existing at the point of operation, taking into account the amount and character of traffic, size of the lake or body of water, freedom from obstruction to view ahead, effects of vessel wake, and so as not to unduly or unreasonably endanger life, limb, property or other rights of any person entitled to the use of such waters. Except as provided in RCW 79A.60.020, a violation of this section is an infraction under chapter RCW 7.84
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What happens if you get charged with a BUI in Court?
Boating Under the Influence is a Misdemeanor. This means that the maximum penalty, allowed by law, is 90 days in jail and/or a $1000 fine. As of 7/25/13 the penalty for BUI was increased to 364 days in jail and/or a $5000 fine.
Unlike a DUI charge, a BUI charge does not carry mandatory minimum penalties. This means that if you’re convicted of the charge you do not face a required amount of jail and fines. In addition there is no requirement of an ignition interlock device, alcohol/drug assessment, or other standard conditions that usually accompany a DUI conviction.
At this time a BUI conviction does not carry a mandatory license suspension like a DUI conviction. However the Washington State Legislature is currently in the progress of amending the law to require an operator license. I bet in the future there may be an operator license suspension based on this legislative action, however at the time of writing this no suspension exists.
If charged with a BUI a defendant has all the same constitutional rights a DUI defendant would have. Meaning they have the right to hire attorney. That attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor in an effort to reduce or dismiss the charges, or the case can be set for trial and the Prosecution would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this crime was committed.
What happens with the Coast Guard following a BUI arrest
So after a person gets arrested for a BUI charge, that information can get forwarded to the Coast Guard. A coast guard civil penalty hearing officer will review the report alleging that you, the operator of a vessel could be liable for a civil penalty for violation of Federal law. Usually its several months up to a year after the BUI arrest before you would hear anything.
The role of the officer is to read the case file, determine if there was a violation, and then decide the civil penalty. In a typical BUI case, the max penalty is up to $7000. If the officer determines there was a violation they will send you notice of this along with the findings, a report, and their recommendation for the civil penalty.
At this point the party typically has three options. First then can pay the penalty, which will result in the case being closed. Secondly then can respond with written evidence, typically a statement, or witness declarations showing they are not liable for this offense. Lastly they can request an in person hearing, where they would appear with an attorney and argue the arrest was not a violation and therefore no civil penalty should be imposed. Conceivably there is a fourth option where a person can ignore the letter and penalty request. If that occurred the case would be sent to collections.
So what takes place at this in person hearing should the party wish to challenge the allegations. The hearings themselves are pretty informal. Federal law applies, and the hearing is administrative so the rules of evidence and other statutory objections are inapplicable. The hearing officer would hear testimony, consider any evidence, and arguments presented. I guess its kind of a like a trial, without the formal rules.
After the hearing if the Coast Guard hearing officer rules against the party then they must pay the civil penalty. If they rule in favor, then the case is closed. There is also an appeal process, should that occur, the Coast Guard officer will send the complete record to their Commander, and the appeal will be decided by that person.
If you have been charged with a BUI, its important you hire an attorney that has dealt with these types of offenses before. Feel free to call my office to set up a free 60 minute consultation, which is completely confidential.