Wednesday, June 22, 2011

BWI - Boating While Intoxicated (Explained)

The calender now reads SUMMER - even if the weather does not concur - and in Minnesota that means one thing --- hitting the lakes. As you do so in your boat or personal water craft - so is the government.

Yes, as part of a national effort to crack down on alcohol and drug related accidents and fatalities on the water, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is engaging in something called Operation Dry Water (you have got to love these names - right?) looking for impaired boat captains.  If you're planning on dropping anchor this weekend, here are a few things you might want to keep in mind if your boating fun also includes a few adult beverages.

The Basics

Just like with driving a motor vehicle, in the State of Minnesota, it is illegal to operate a boat or personal watercraft with a blood alcohol concentration greater than (.08) percent.  Those in excess of the legal limit may be charged with BWI (Boating While Intoxicated).

Just like with Drunk Driving, a first time BWI charge is usually classified as a Misdemeanor - which could result in the imposition of a $1,000 fine and a jail sentence of up to 90 days.  You could also see your boating privileges suspended for up to 90 days.  In addition, the enhancement factors - which could raise a 1st time offense to a more serious criminal classification - are also applied in BWI case.  Therefore, if your piloting your boat with a blood alcohol concentration of (.20) percent or more, have a prior conviction for DWI (or BWI) or a were convicted of failing to submit a sample of your blood, breath or urine for testing in the 10 years prior to the new charge, and/or there's a passenger under the age 16 on board at the time of the offense - you could be looking at a Gross Misdemeanor of Felony level charge. 

Different than a DWI?

As much as they might be the same, BWI laws also differ from the Drunk Driving laws in a number of ways too.  One of the most important is that an officer - who usually needs to assert a reasonably articulable suspicion to legally stop your vehicle - doesn't always need such a well defined reason to board your boat. More often than not, the police can come aboard for safety or security reasons. Then, if the officer notes the smell of alcohol or sees evidence of drinking, he can begin an investigation.   

Another significant difference in BWI prosecution is the impact that the sun can have on the boater's body - especially when alcohol is involved.  As opposed to when you're drinking a beer in a bar - when your body is processing alcohol in a way you're familiar with - because alcohol works to dehydrate you (as does a day in the sun) it is often easy to underestimate the effect that alcohol is having on you. This often leads to greater consumption - especially if it's a cold beer on a hot day - which can result in a higher alcohol concentration in your system.

What Should You Do?

If you're a regular follower of this blog, you'll note some of the suggestions I've made when having contact with the police- in the context of a Drunk Driving stops.  A lot of those same warnings should be heeded by you when having contact with an officer while out on the lake - and your being suspected of BWI.

If you've been arrested, your next best step is to contact an experienced Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney to learn your rights, to fight for you in court and to protect your future.

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