Boating under the influence (BUI) in Washington State

Lately I’ve had several people call me about representing them in BUI charges here in Washington State.  For those of you that dont know a BUI charge is nothing like a DUI charge, except for fact it involved alcohol.  For starters a BUI charge is only a misdemeanor, and it doesnt carry the mandatory penalties that a Washington State DUI does (jail, fine, license suspension).

What I wanted to talk about today is the coast guard hearing that sometimes accompanies the BUI charge.  Similarly in a DUI charge there is a civil hearing to determine civil penalties (a license suspension, a BUI arrest could result in a civil hearing to determine the civil penalties.

So after a person gets arrested for a BUI charge, that information can get forwarded to Coast Guard.  A coast guard civil penalty hearing officer will review the report alleging that you, the operator of a vessel could be liable for a civil penalty for violation of Federal law.  Usually its several months up to a year after the BUI arrest before you would hear anything.

The role of the officer is read the case file, determine if there was a violation, and then decide the civil penalty.  In a typical BUI case, the max penalty is up to $7000.  If the officer determines there was a violation that will send you notice of this along with the findings, a report, and their recommendation for the civil penalty.

At this point the party typically has three options.  First then can pay the penalty which will result in the case being closed.  Secondly then can respond with written evidence, typically a statement, or witness declarations.  Lastly they can request an in person hearing, where they would appear with an attorney and argue the arrest was not a violation and therefore no civil penalty should be imposed.  Conceivably there is a fourth option where a person can ignore the letter and penalty request.  If that occurred the case would be sent to collections.

So what takes place at this in person hearing should the party wish to challenge the allegations.  The hearings themselves are pretty informal.  Federal law applies, and the hearing is administrative so the rules of evidence and other statutory objections are inapplicable.  The hearing officer would hear testimony, consider any evidence, and arguments presented.  I guess its kind of a like a trial, without the formal rules.

After the hearing if the Coast Guard hearing officer rules against the party then they must pay the civil penalty.  If they rule in favor, then the case is closed.  There is also an appeal process, should that occur, the Coast Guard officer will send in the complete record to the Commander, and the appeal will be decided by that person.

I realize its not summertime, and SeaFair weekend, but if you have been charged with a BUI or if you were arrested and your charges are now being filed, please contact my office immediately to set up a free consultation.  And also dont forgot about the possibility of the civil coast guard hearing when deciding on a resolution in the criminal BUI case.