Boating under the influence, otherwise known as BUI or BWI, involves, as the name suggests, operating a watercraft under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It can be shown by physical evidence and observations of police officers, or by a breath test or blood test reading over .08. In most states and in most jurisdictions, a BWI conviction is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $ 1,000 fine.
But there is good news. Unlike DUI laws, which can be very stringent with harsh penalties, BUI laws are much less strict. For all intents and purposes, BUIs are treated like any other misdemeanor. This means no mandatory jail time, no driver’s license suspension, and no implied consent laws. It also means you have the ability to exercise your Constitutional rights unconditionally. And in many cases doing so can mean the difference between a conviction for BWI and an acquittal or dismissal.
Before I go any further, the example I’m going to use in this article will be from Seattle, Washington. That means I’m going to talk about the rights one has when investigated for BWI in Seattle and what you can do to limit the evidence the Seattle police can get against you. If you are in another state, and even if you are in Washington State, please read this article for informational purposes only. The information may or may not apply to you in your specific circumstances, and if you are confronted with a situation like this, please call an attorney to get advice. This information is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be treated as such.
Now that I’ve gotten the precursors out of the way, let me tell you about your Constitutional rights and how to exercise them to help you in your Seattle BWI case.
First things first, it is important to remember that when that police boat pulls up next to you they aren’t out there for fun. They already assume you are BUI and are simply looking for enough clues to allow them to arrest you. For example, I think I read somewhere that last weekend, during Seafair weekend, they made 110 boating under the influence arrests. Think about that. There is not way that many people were driving their boats crazy enough to call the attention of the police. But once they got on the boat, the driver gave them enough information to arrest them. Remember that as you see the boat approaching and keep as calm, cool, and collected as you can.
Second, you have a fundamental right to silence. This means when the police approach, the only information you have to give them is your identification. You can identify yourself as the driver of the boat, but other than that I would not answer any of their questions, particularly about your alcohol intake for the day or any other time. When asked a question like that simply say “my attorney told me not to answer that question.” And when they ask again, calmly repeat yourself. Remember though that they are not going to like this response and will try numerous different things to get you to talk. Just remain silent and wait until they move on to the next issue.
Third, you have the right not to incriminate yourself (kind of the same thing as number two, but said in a different way). This is the next issue, and it involves field sobriety tests. You do not have to take them and should decline to take them every time. The only thing taking field sobriety tests will do, particularly on a boat, is give the cops more ammunition to use against you later. Just say no to field sobriety tests. Not only will it frustrate the police to no end, but it will prevent them from getting any information on you to charge you with. This doesn’t mean they won’t arrest you, but it does mean you will have a much higher chance of beating the charge.
Fourth, and finally, unlike if you are driving a car, you have no obligation to take a breathalyzer test, of any kind. This includes the one they will have out on the boat (a portable breath test) and the actual breathalyzer test. If you have been drinking at all, do not take the breath test. They are unreliable and again, will only give the police more information to use against you later. Just say no to breath tests.
And one last thing. All of this silence you are giving the cops and refusal to take their tests – it cannot be used against you. That’s right, I said it. They will not be able to discuss in court the fact that you refused to answer their questions, refused to take field sobriety tests, or refused to take breath tests. You know why? Because it is the reasonable exercise of your Constitutional rights. And exercising your fundamental rights can’t be used against you. It is going to make the police very mad and frustrated, but you can laugh all the way out of the courthouse.
In the end, the best way to avoid a Seattle BWI charge, and to boat safely, is to refrain from drinking and driving. But if you are going to, you should at least know your rights and how to exercise them to put you in the best position possible.
Christopher Small is a Seattle boating under influence attorney and Seattle boating under influence lawyer with CMS Law Firm LLC. If you have been charged with boating under the influence in Seattle, Washington, don’t wait, call us today. If you’ve exercised your rights like we’ve discussed in this article, the chances of getting out of your BUI charges is much better than if you did exactly what the police want.