Recent Changes to Florida's Laws & The Impact On Penalties For BUI

Florida recently passed new laws designed to impact individuals charged with violent crimes that now mandate a motion for pretrial detention for first-degree felonies, including capital offenses.

In addition to first-degree felonies, the laws also target crimes such as boating under the influence, BUI manslaughter, and DUI manslaughter, which are second-degree felonies. Keep reading to learn more about what these changes mean for Florida residents.

Friends Chatting on Boat Deck and drinking beers

Boating Under The Influence In Florida

While seasoned boaters are likely aware of Florida’s strict BUI laws, thousands of tourists and first-time boaters are surprised to find out just how serious the penalties are for drinking while driving a watercraft.

Boating Under the Influence (BUI) in Florida refers to operating a vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In Florida, individuals can be convicted of BUI if they're found operating a boat with a blood or breath alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more.

Like drunk driving laws are designed to ensure safety on the waterways and prevent boating accidents that can result in property damage, injury, or even death.

Recent Changes To Florida Laws Impacting BUI

Florida has continually updated and strengthened its BUI laws so that they are stricter and more effective in reducing the number of incidents involving intoxicated boaters. These changes, which were enacted in 2024, impact things like pretrial detention and post-conviction penalties.

Pre-Trial Detention

Serious offenses such as BUI manslaughter require a pretrial detention motion under the new laws. This means that if you are arrested for BUI manslaughter, you may need to stay in jail until your trial for the public’s safety.

Hillsborough County State Attorney Suzy Lopez has stated she believes that increasing bail for these crimes should only make the community safer.

“We are not treating criminals like victims. We are keeping our community safe by keeping people who are dangerous [...] behind bars, pending their trial,” Lopez said.

Increased Penalties

Another recent change to Florida law also increases the penalties for crimes such as BUI and BUI manslaughter by prohibiting trial judges from accepting certain pleas in these cases.

Florida has implemented stricter penalties for BUI offenses, including fines, jail time, probation, or a combination of these consequences, depending on factors such as a person's BAC, prior convictions, and whether the offense resulted in property damage or harm to others.

While the laws do introduce stricter penalties for repeat offenders, the legislation also introduces DUI diversion programs and rehabilitation opportunities in every judicial circuit for first-time offenders.

Various law enforcement agencies in Florida enforce the state's driving under the influence (BUI) laws. These agencies include the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, county sheriffs, municipal police officers, and other law enforcement officials.

They monitor the waterways and focus on the safe operation of vessels to ensure everyone's safety.

Arrest Procedures And Rights

When law enforcement officers suspect a BUI offense, they need probable cause to make an arrest. Possible causes may arise from erratic driving, slurred speech, or apparent alcohol consumption. Once probable cause exists, the officer may stop the vessel, conduct a sobriety, or order a blood alcohol test.

During the arrest, the officers must inform you of your rights. These rights include the right to remain silent, the right to legal counsel, and the right to be informed of the charges against you.

Testing For Alcohol And Chemical Substances

House Bill 0039 also introduces new changes to Florida law that tightens up the consequences for individuals who refuse to submit to a blood, breath, or urine test.

Florida boating laws already require implied consent to test for alcohol or chemical substances. This means that by operating a vessel in Florida waters, you implicitly consent to submit to a breath alcohol test, blood test, or other chemical test if you are stopped for probable cause for a BUI investigation.

However, under the new laws, if you refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test, you could face additional penalties, including civil or criminal fines, suspension of your boating privileges, or even impoundment of your vehicle, in addition to any penalties that may result from a BUI conviction.

Consequences Of BUI Conviction

The consequences of a BUI conviction in Florida can be severe and far-reaching. They can affect your finances, freedom, and ability to operate vessels and vehicles. It's essential to be aware of these potential consequences and to follow Florida's BUI laws and regulations to ensure your safety and the safety of others on the water.

Fines And Financial Repercussions

If you're convicted of boating under the influence (BUI) in Florida, you'll face significant financial repercussions. For a first-time offense, you can be fined between $500 and $1,000.

Fines increase significantly if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is considerably higher or if you have been previously convicted of DUI. Keep in mind that these fines are just the beginning, as other expenses, such as legal fees, court costs, and higher insurance premiums, will also impact your finances.

Jail Time, Probation, And Criminal Records

For a first offense, you also face up to 6 months in prison. The period of imprisonment may be increased if you already have a criminal record or if there are more severe circumstances. Depending on the case's specifics, a BUI can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony, resulting in a permanent criminal record.

In addition to a prison sentence, you may receive a suspended sentence, which comes with strict conditions and monitoring. You may also have to complete community service as part of your sentence.

Vessel Impoundment And License Suspensions

A BUI conviction can also affect your ability to operate a vessel and driver's license. Your boat could be impounded, and you may face a temporary or permanent suspension of your boating privileges.

Depending on the severity of the offense and your criminal history, your driver's license may also be revoked.

BUI Manslaughter And Serious Bodily Injury

In more severe cases, if a person driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol causes an accident that results in death or serious bodily injury, they may face enhanced criminal charges, such as BUI manslaughter or BUI causing severe bodily injury. Under Florida Statutes, aggravated assault is defined as an injury that involves a high risk of death, disfigurement, or loss or impairment of a bodily function.

If you have been affected by a BUI accident resulting in death or serious bodily injury, it's important that you know your rights and how Florida's laws may impact your situation. Consulting with a qualified attorney can help you through this difficult time and guide you on the right course of action.

Speak To A Florida BUI Lawyer About Your Charges

If you’ve been arrested for boating under the influence or BUI manslaughter in Florida, it’s crucial that you speak with an attorney about your charges right away. BUI is a serious crime that can have very serious penalties, even for a first offense.

Weinstein Legal Team’s experienced criminal defense lawyers have over thirty years of combined experience defending Floridians against boating under the influence and other criminal charges. Click here to schedule a free consultation with an attorney, or call us today at 888.626.1108 to get started.

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