A lawmaker from Maryland was recently handed a 30-day jail sentence for operating a motorboat under the influence of alcohol, following a crash that injured several people – including children as well as the representative himself – last August.
Our D.C. boating DUI lawyers understand that while he pleaded guilty per a deal that would have resulted in no incarceration, the judge rejected that deal and imposed the month-long jail term, as well as a $1,000 fine.
It could have been worse.
Penalties for boating under the influence in both D.C. and Maryland are similar for those for driving while intoxicated. That is, a first-time offense is punishable by up to six months in jail. (If you have a 0.20 percent blood-alcohol content, you’ll serve a mandatory 10 days in jail; that’s upped to a mandatory 15 days in jail for a blood-alcohol content of 0.25 percent and 20 days for 0.30 percent.)
All of this assumes no one was injured. In cases with injury or especially death, you could be serving a year or more in prison.
Despite all of these similarities, boaters’ rights are actually less protected than individuals who are in a motor vehicle on land. That’s because when you’re on the road, an officer has to have reasonable suspicion for stopping you. However, the U.S. Coast Guard is authorized to stop and search your boat at any time and for pretty much any reason. In fact, most people who are arrested for BUI in D.C. and Maryland are taken in after one off these standard inspections – not because of any evidence that they were operating recklessly or had been involved in an accident.
During one of these inspections, it’s not uncommon for authorities to ask you to undergo a field sobriety test to determine whether you are impaired. The majority of these tests were designed to be conducted on land – on flat, dry surfaces. Officers may or may not subjectively take into account the effect of the boat movement or slippery surface on your balance or the bright sun glare on your vision.
The accuracy of field sobriety tests is questionable to begin with. Factor in the tests being conducted in a marine environment, and your odds of failing are increased.
They also won’t tell you that these tests are entirely voluntary.
In the case of Del. Don Dwyer, he was reportedly operating a 26-foot motorboat when he crashed into an 18-foot vessel, carrying five children and two adults. Numerous people were injured, including Dwyer. His blood alcohol level was later calculated at 0.08 percent – three times the legal limit for operation of a boat, which is the same as operation for a car – 0.08 percent.
His attorney later said that sample was improperly taken by an officer who did not obtain a warrant and didn’t ask Dwyer’s permission.
Dwyer later apologized for drinking while boating, but maintained that the accident was not his fault. He is currently receiving in-patient alcohol abuse treatment.
If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Law Office of Daniel A. Gross, PLLC at 202-596-5716.