Driving while impaired is a major criminal offense, as most people know. Not everyone thinks about the seriousness of boating while impaired, but it, too, can lead to severe legal problems. If you or a loved one were arrested and charged with boating while impaired (BWI) or boating under the influence (BUI), it’s time to contact a skilled criminal defense attorney.
Hancock Law Firm, PLLC, represents defendants who are charged with BWI, BUI, and related alcohol offenses. We’re ready to get started on your case today.
How North Carolina Charges BWI And BUI
Although similar to driving while impaired (DWI) and driving under the influence (DUI), BWI and BUI are charged separately from these criminal offenses. You can be convicted of BWI if you operate a vessel in North Carolina waters while under the influence of alcohol or other impairing substances. You can also be charged if you’ve consumed sufficient alcohol such that, at any relevant time after boating, you have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher.
A “vessel” includes the following:
- Motorized boat
- Water skis
- Other non-motorized vessels
One difference between BWI/BUI and DWI/DUI is that law enforcement officers do not need probable cause to stop a boat or other water vessel. Probable cause is an important protection that DWI defendants enjoy, and violation of it can be grounds for challenging a conviction. But this doesn’t apply to boating offenses concerning alcohol.
That’s because law enforcement can stop you for any reason while you’re on the water. If you’ve boated long enough, you probably know that officers can stop you to determine whether you have enough life jackets on board or to check licensing and registration. If you’re stopped in a routine safety check and it turns out you are intoxicated, you can be charged even if there was no probable cause.
What Are The Criminal Penalties Of BWI And BUI?
BWI and BUI are generally charged as class 2 misdemeanors. You can be punished with up to 60 days in jail, a fine of between $250 and $1,000, and community service. Your exact punishment will depend on your prior criminal record. You can expect to lose your boating privileges after a conviction. However, a conviction for BWI or BUI will not affect your driver’s license the way a DWI or DUI would.
Recently enacted legislation known as Sheyenne’s Law stiffens the penalties for BWI and BUI if someone gets hurt or killed because of your actions. You may be charged with a felony if you were operating the boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs and caused:
- Serious bodily injury: class F felony, 10-41 months in prison
- Aggravated serious injury (with a previous conviction of BUI in the past seven years): class E felony, 15-63 months in prison
- Death: class D felony, 38-160 months in prison
- Aggravated death (with a previous conviction of BUI in the past seven years): aggravated class D felony, 64-160 months in prison
- Repeat death (causing death after a previous conviction of death or aggravated death by impaired boating): class B2 felony, 94-393 months in prison
These felonies will also result in substantially higher fines.
Possible Defenses To A BWI Or BUI Charge
While there are some important differences between a BWI/BUI charge and a DWI/DUI charge, don’t underestimate the seriousness of these laws. You can still end up spending time in jail, paying huge fines, and losing your boating privileges if you’re convicted. A conviction could also affect your career or educational prospects and reputation. It pays to have an aggressive legal defense looking out for you.
Every criminal charge is different, so the circumstances of your case will largely determine what sort of potential defenses may be available. For example, you might be able to challenge a Breathalyzer or other test that was used to determine that you were intoxicated. If you were charged with a felony involving serious bodily injury or death, you would need a strong defense considering the severe criminal penalties. Again, the specific facts of your case will affect what defense options you may have.
One thing that’s worth noting is that you are not required to submit to a Breathalyzer test if you’re suspected of a BWI or BUI. This is different from a DWI or DUI charge. If you’re driving on a public road, you’ve given implied consent to have your blood alcohol concentration tested if you are suspected of driving under the influence. Not submitting to a Breathalyzer will result in your license being revoked. The same is not true for boating, so you can refuse to take a Breathalyzer without punishment.
What To Do After An Arrest
If you’ve been placed under arrest on suspicion of BWI or BUI, the first thing to do is remain calm – and remain silent. We encourage criminal defendants to exercise their Miranda rights, which means asking to speak with your lawyer and then saying nothing.
As soon as you can, start making notes about what happened. The further away you get from the incident, the more difficult it will be to remember details. But convictions often turn on seemingly insignificant facts, so the more you can write down, the better.
Finally, retain the services of a knowledgeable BWI/BUI defense attorney. Your attorney should have experience handling cases that involve boating while impaired and under the influence. It’s also important for your lawyer to know the differences between these offenses and DWIs and DUIs since they’re not the same.
Contact Our Carteret County Boating While Impaired Attorney
After an arrest, you deserve skilled legal representation from a law firm that understands you have a lot at stake. Trust Hancock Law Firm, PLLC. We will review the circumstances of your case, explain your legal options, and then get to work fighting for you. Call us today to get started.