During the summer months in Arizona, a greater number of people head to the popular lakes and waterways for boating and other recreational activities. Boat operators should be aware that operating boats while they are impaired by alcohol is illegal in Arizona. If boat operators operate their boats while they are drinking, they may face criminal charges and potential penalties. So the main question is: can you get a DUI on a boat? Yes.
In Arizona, operating a motorized watercraft on the lakes and waterways of the state while you are under the influence of alcohol is illegal under A.R.S. 5-395 – Operating Under the Influence. According to the law, you may be charged with an OUI offense if you have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher, which is the same standard for a DUI in a vehicle. However, the law also allows an OUI charge if you are impaired to the slightest degree when you are operating a boat. This means that it is possible for you to be charged with an OUI if you have any measurable amount of alcohol in your bloodstream and have been observed boating in an erratic manner.
During the summer months, many people head to the lakes and other waterways to hike, swim, fish, and boating. Because of the large number of people in and on the lakes, law enforcement agencies work together with officers from the Arizona Game and Fish Department to patrol the waterways and to detect boat operators who are operating their boats while drinking. Boat operators who are suspected of operating their boats while they are impaired by alcohol may be stopped and charged with OUI offenses.
Watch this video of David Cantor explaining what is an OUI in Arizona:
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According to the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Office, 4,291 boat accidents occurred in 2017 in the U.S., injuring 2,629 people and killing 658. In Arizona, there were 123 boating accidents during that year that resulted in 77 injuries and 13 fatalities. The Coast Guard reports that alcohol use was a leading cause of fatal boating accidents in a majority of the cases. The top five leading contributing factors to fatal boating accidents include the following:
In 81% of the fatal accidents, the operators had not undergone boat safety education courses. Only 14% of the fatalities happened on boats that were operated by people who had taken boat safety courses. The types of boats that had the highest percentage of deaths included open motorboats with 47% of the fatalities, kayaks with 15% of the fatalities, and personal watercraft with 7% of the fatalities.
The potential penalties for an OUI in Arizona will depend on if you have had any prior convictions, your blood alcohol concentration, and whether you have any minors on the boat at the time of your arrest.
If you are convicted of a first offense OUI, it is a class 1 misdemeanor. You may be sentenced to serve 10 days up to six months in jail and pay a fine and surcharge of approximately $2,100. The jail time may be suspended on the condition that you complete an alcohol screening and any recommended alcohol education classes. If your blood alcohol concentration is found to be 0.15% but less than 0.20%, you may be charged with an extreme OUI. For this offense, a conviction will bring a minimum of 30 days in jail. If your BAC is 0.20% or higher, the minimum jail sentence is 45 days under A.R.S. 5-397.
If you are convicted of a second offense OUI within 84 months of an earlier OUI conviction, the penalties will be more severe under A.R.S. 5-395.01. The minimum jail sentence will be 90 days, and 30 days of that sentence must be served consecutively. Sixty days of the jail sentence can be suspended if you complete an alcohol assessment and mandatory alcohol classes. The fine and surcharge will be approximately $2,500, and the maximum jail that you might serve is up to six months.
If you are convicted of an extreme OUI as a second offense within 84 months of a prior conviction for OUI, the penalties are more serious. The minimum jail sentence will be 120 days, and only 60 days can be suspended. The jail time can only be suspended if you complete the alcohol assessment and classes as previously described.
If you are charged with a third OUI offense, the prosecutor has the option of charging you with either a misdemeanor or a felony. If you are charged and convicted of a misdemeanor third offense OUI, the minimum jail will be six months. There will also be a fine and surcharge of $2,500, and you will also have to complete the alcohol classes as previously described.
You may be charged with an aggravated OUI if you are convicted of a third offense within 84 months and have any combination of prior OUI convictions. You may also be convicted of an aggravated OUI if you have a minor who is younger than age 15 on your boat at the time that you are charged even with a first offense under A.R.S. 5-396. If you are convicted of a felony aggravated OUI as a third offense, you must serve a minimum of four months in prison before you can benefit from a commutation, pardon, or suspension of your sentence. If you have three or more prior OUI offenses, the minimum prison sentence will be eight months.
If a minor was on your boat when you were charged with an OUI under A.R.S. 5-395, you will be required to serve the minimum jail sentence of 10 days without the benefit of suspension of your sentence for a first offense. If your BAC was 0.15% but less than 0.20%, and you had a minor under age 15 on your boat, you will have to serve a minimum of 30 days in jail with no suspended sentence. If it was 0.20% or higher, you will be required to serve a minimum of 45 days in jail.
If you are involved in a boating accident that injures or kills someone while you were under the influence of alcohol, you may be charged with both the OUI offense as well as other criminal charges. If someone is injured in the boating accident, you may be charged with felony assault. If someone is killed in the boating accident, you could face manslaughter charges in addition to your OUI charges.
Aggravated assault may be charged when your OUI boating accident causes a serious injury to another person or when you have used your boat as a dangerous instrument in such a way that it places another person at substantial risk of imminent serious injury or death under A.R.S. 13-1204. If the prosecutor is able to prove to the jury that your boat was a dangerous instrument, it is a dangerous class 3 felony with a sentencing range of three years to 12.5 years. If the victim was not seriously injured, your sentence for the assault may range from probation with up to one year of incarceration in the county jail. You could alternately receive a sentence of two to eight years in prison.
If someone dies in a boating accident while you were under the influence of alcohol, you may be charged with both the OUI as well as manslaughter under A.R.S. 13-1103. You may be convicted of manslaughter if the prosecutor is able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you recklessly caused the death of the victim in your boating accident. Manslaughter is a class 2 felony carrying a penalty range of seven years to 21 years in prison for a first conviction.
The possible defenses that might be available in your case will depend on the circumstances of your stop and testing as well as what occurred. In many OUI cases, experienced dui attorneys will challenge the forensic evidence, including the breathalyzer or blood tests. In some cases, lawyers are able to identify mistakes in the testing that may invalidate the results and that might cause them to be inadmissible. The manner of your stop may also be challenged. If your boat was not stopped during a saturation patrol and the officer did not have probable cause to stop your boat, your lawyer may be able to secure suppression of all of the evidence against you in your case.
If you were in a boating accident while you were impaired by alcohol, a lawyer may try to identify other causes for the accident such as another boater, debris in the water, or a mechanical defect. In all criminal cases, criminal defense lawyers challenge the evidence that the state tries to use against their clients in an effort to secure the best possible outcomes for them.
If you are facing OUI or related charges, it is important for you to get help from an experienced defense lawyer that is experienced in OUI and DUI Laws. The potential penalties for OUI convictions are severe. The team at DM Cantor includes four attorneys who are board certified criminal law specialists, and we have successfully defended our clients against criminal charges in thousands of criminal matters. Contact us today to schedule a consultation by calling 602.307.0808.
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