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Boating While Intoxicated (“BWI”)

It is a common occurrence, you and family or friends decide to spend the weekend relaxing. It’s the summer, it’s hot, the weather is nice, what are you going to do? Living near Lake Norman, chances are a body of water will be involved in your plans. Like many others in Mooresville, you will head to the lake for a day of relaxation. Cracking open some cold ones while out for an afternoon is also exceedingly common. What many people may not understand is that law enforcement authorities keep a close eye on boaters and are always watching for indications that the operator may have had one too many drinks.

Operating a boat while impaired can prove dangerous and, in some cases, deadly. As with driving a car drunk, drunken boating leads to slowed reaction time, poor coordination and a general increase in risky behavior. These combine to put not only your boat and its occupants at risk, but also others on the lake. Accidents on the lake happen more than you might think and when such accidents do occur, there is an increased risk of serious injury or death. Unlike vehicles, few people are properly restrained in boats and boats lack the sophisticated protection systems common in even the most basic cars.

It is because of the risk of harm that law enforcement has begun cracking down on drunken boating. To the surprise of many, there even exists a specific crime for impaired boating, known as boating while intoxicated or “BWI”. Just like the more commonly known DWI, BWIs are criminal infractions that can lead to very real consequences. Though the offense takes place on water, you should understand that the procedures involved in testing intoxication and pursuing punishment for offenders mirrors that on dry land.

In North Carolina, operating a boat while impaired is an equally serious offense as operating a car while impaired. Just like with officers on roadways, North Carolina law is clear that law enforcement officials have the right to stop any boaters that they suspect of impaired boating and ask them to perform field sobriety tests. Also like DWIs, BWIs can impact your life in a substantive way, showing up on your criminal record, leading to more expensive insurance rates and resulting in criminal sanctions. It is for this reason that if you get charged with BWI, you should reach out to an experienced Mooresville criminal defense attorney right away.

A recently passed law stiffens the penalties for BWI in North Carolina. The law creates a felony BWI offense. Previously, BWI charges only resulted in misdemeanor convictions. Now the felony BWI faces the same penalties as those convicted of felony DWIs. That means in the most extreme cases, where bodily injury occurs, a judge has the ability to sentence the defendant to up to 15 years in jail. In cases where death occurs, sentencing guidelines allow up to 25 years behind bars. So what level of intoxication is required to justify a BWI charge? The exact same as for a DWI. If a boater is found with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher that is enough for the person to be found guilty of impaired boating.

Although the penalties for impaired boating may now be similar to those for impaired driving, the reality is that a BWI is a separate charge and requires its own expertise. One important difference between BWIs and DWIs is that refusal to submit to a Breathalyzer test during a BWI stop will not cause your driver’s license to automatically be suspended for a year. Something else to keep in mind, BWIs are more vulnerable than DWI charges to certain lines of attack. In particular, it’s common to contest the charge based on jurisdiction, whether there was sufficient justification for the stop and probable cause for the arrest. It’s crucial that your attorney understand and be aware of these issues so that they can confidently handle your defense.

Even though boating while intoxicated may not sound as serious as driving while intoxicated to many people, from a legal perspective it can carry every bit as many consequences. That is why it’s crucial to reach out to an experienced BWI defense attorney if you find yourself facing related charges. The attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC will work with you to analyze the unique facts of your case and will develop a powerful defense tailored specifically to your needs. Contact the criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC today for your free criminal consultation.