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Boating While Intoxicated

Participating in water activities, such as boating, is a favorite pastime in the United States. It may be common for you or your friends to spend time with loved ones on the water, especially when the weather permits water activities. If you live or visit anywhere near a body of water - whether it be a lake, river, or ocean - chances are boating or some similar water activity will be on your agenda when the sun is out.

Like many others in Weddington or other parts of Union County in North Carolina, when you are out on a boat, you are expecting to enjoy a day of relaxation. When adults are involved, the day often includes drinking beer, wine, or some other alcoholic beverage during your time out. What many do not understand, however, is that local law enforcement authorities patrol these areas and closely watch boaters. In fact, authorities often keep an eye out and watch for any sign that a boat operator may be intoxicated.

Added Risk of Boating

It is vital to understand that operating a water vessel, including boats, while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is dangerous at best and deadly at worst. Just like getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while intoxicated, boating while drunk causes risky behavior, delayed reaction time, and puts both the boat’s passengers and others on the water at risk of physical harm. The difference between vehicles and boats, however, is that most passengers are not properly restrained in the latter. Moreover, boats lack sophisticated protection systems that are common in vehicles such as airbags and antilock brakes that help protect passengers when they are involved in a crash. Accidents on bodies of water - whether lakes, rivers, or oceans - are more common than one would expect.

This added risk of harm that boaters are exposed to is exactly what has prompted North Carolina law enforcement to start cracking down on those who are boating while intoxicated.

North Carolina Boating While Impaired Law

Much to the surprise of most, the state of North Carolina has a specific law that criminalizes impaired boating. This is referred to as boating while intoxicated, or BWI. Similar to the commonly recognized driving while intoxicated - or DWI - boating while intoxicated is a criminal infraction that can result in real and negative consequences for the accused and convicted. Even though the criminal offense happens on water instead of land, the criminal procedures are similar. This includes similarities involving the testing of an intoxicated boat operator as well as the prosecution and punishment of offenders found guilty of BWI.

North Carolina’s penalties for BWIs are quite serious. Previously, state law merely resulted in a misdemeanor conviction. Current law, however, constitutes a BWI as a felony and penalties are similar to those for DWI felony convictions. In the most extreme cases in which someone has been hurt, a North Carolina judge has the authority to sentence an accused for up to 15 years in jail. If a BWI results in the death of another, North Carolina sentencing guidelines allow judges to impose up to 25 years of jail time. The level of intoxication, or blood alcohol level, that is required under the law to constitute a BWI is the same as that of a DWI. If a boat operator is found to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or above, he or she will likely be charged with boating while intoxicated.

Consequences of BWI Charges or Convictions

Being charged with a BWI in North Carolina is just as serious as being charged with a DWI. State law clearly allows law enforcement officials to stop any boaters who are suspected of boating while impaired. Officers can ask a suspect to undergo a field sobriety test to determine their blood alcohol level (BAC). Just like a DWI charge and/or conviction can have a long-lasting negative effect on your life, a BWI charge and/or conviction can cause the same havoc. A BWI charge will show up on your criminal record, which can negatively impact your ability to rent or buy property, take out a loan, qualify for a job, and more. You may also end up facing criminal sanctions if convicted of the charge. For these reasons, if you or someone you know is facing a BWI charge in Weddington or anywhere else in North Carolina, it is critical that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.

How BWIs are Different

While the penalties associated with a BWI are similar to those imposed under a DWI charge, it is important to understand that these are two distinct and separate charges. Accordingly, defending a BWI charge requires its own unique expertise that is different from defending a DWI. One key difference between a BWI charge and a DWI charge is submission to testing. Unlike a DWI, refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test performed by a law enforcement officer during a BWI stop will not result in your North Carolina driver’s license being suspended automatically for one year. Moreover, there are several ways to attack a BWI charge that cannot be used against a DWI charge.

The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC can work with the unique facts of your case and analyze them to prepare a powerful defense. Contact us today to schedule a free, initial consultation with one of our skilled criminal defense lawyers.