Boating under the influence (BUI) or boating while impaired (BWI) in North Carolina is a common offense that can lead to serious penalties. North Carolina offers beautiful boating territories year round, from the Crystal Coast to dozens of gorgeous rivers. With more than 300,000 registered water vessels in NC, boating is one of the state’s most popular pastimes. Unfortunately, this translates into numerous boating DWI charges and convictions. The Scharff Law Firm attorneys understand the intricacies of boating while impaired offenses and can best evaluate your case for any weaknesses in the government’s case.
What Constitutes Boating While Impaired in NC?
Just as drivers must understand the laws for drinking and driving on the roadway, responsible boaters need to know the rules and regulations for boating under the influence in North Carolina. While it’s wise not to drink anything while operating a water vessel – as even one drink can influence decision-making – the legal maximum is a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08. One cannot operate any vessel on North Carolina’s waterways while under the influence of any impairing substance. Vessels include not only boats, but also water skis, jet skis, surfboards, or non-motorized vehicle.
Boating laws define the term “operate” as navigating or otherwise using or occupying any vessel or motorboat that is afloat. Operators of water vessels do not have to consent to chemical analysis testing, unlike drivers who give implied consent when they obtain their licenses. Refusal to undergo a BAC test does not result in a license revocation for impaired boaters. To obtain a boater’s breath for analysis, an officer must obtain a warrant or the accused must consent to the test.
Consequences of Boating While Impaired
As of December 1, 2016, people convicted of BWI in North Carolina will face harsher penalties than before. While in the past BWI convictions didn’t result in the same type of penalties as a typical DWI, now the two are more in line. If a drunken boater causes a serious injury or fatality, the law considers it a felony. Previously, a BWI was a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable with $250 to $1,000 in fines and a maximum jail sentence of 60 days. The new penalties in NC, called “Sheyenne’s Law” after a 17-year-old girl who died on Lake Norman from a drunken boater, are as follows:
- A BWI offender who causes serious injury to someone else can face a class F felony, punishable with 10 to 41 months in prison.
- An offender who causes serious injury and has a prior BWI conviction in the last seven years can face a class E felony. Class E felonies in NC are punishable with 15 to 63 months in prison.
- A BWI offender who causes death faces a class D felony charge – an offense punishable with 38 to 160 months in prison.
- Aggravated death by impaired boating by an offender who has a prior conviction in the last seven years is guilty of an aggravated class D felony, punishable by 64 to 160 months in prison.
- A BWI offender who causes the death of someone else and has a prior conviction for killing someone by impaired boating is a class B2 felony – a major offense that comes with 94 to 393 months in prison.
There are many other potential defenses for a BWI in Raleigh, NC depending on the circumstances of the arrest. Statutes of limitations for filing the BWI, issues with BAC test results, failures to perform more than one type of test, and improper notification of your options may all come into play, helping you avoid or at least minimize penalties. Talk to a criminal attorney immediately following a BWI arrest in Raleigh. Attorneys Reba and Jesse Scharff have a thorough understanding of the appropriate protocols necessary to lawfully and thoroughly investigate offenses covered by Sheyenne’s Law.
If you’re facing charges for boating under the influence or boating while impaired, contact Jesse and Reba at the Scharff Law Firm for experienced legal help. We’ll meet with you during a free case consultation and tell you whether we believe we have a case in your defense.