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Detroit Legal Blog

Flying and Boating Under the Influence

May 06, 2016, by Maurice Davis in Criminal Defense, Drug Crimes, Legal Blog, OWI

Everyone knows it’s illegal to drive a car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. But there are also harsh penalties for operating vehicles such as boats or planes while under the influence. In Michigan, boaters who get caught operating their vehicles while intoxicated may face jail time and heavy fines. As for pilots, they face even harsher penalties under Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) rules. In fact, these rules are so strict that pilots can even face a pilot’s license suspension for getting a DUI behind the wheel of a car.

Whether you get charged with operating a car, boat, or plane while under the influence, it’s essential that you retain the services a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney to work on your case. With such harsh penalties at stake, hiring a good DUI defense lawyer is quite literally an investment in your future.

How Does Michigan Law Define Boating Under the Influence?

According to Michigan law enforcement officials, heavy drinking is one of the main causes of boating accidents and drownings. With this in mind, the state legislature recently dropped the legal blood alcohol level (BAC) for boaters from 0.10 to 0.08—the same as the legal limit for motorists.

According to the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, it is illegal to operate a motorboat in Michigan waters if:

  • You are under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance
  • You have a BAC of 0.08 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, per 210 liters of breath, or per 67 milliliters of urine
  • You have any amount of a controlled substance listed in schedule 1 under section 7212 of the public health code in your system

Additionally, it is illegal for you to allow another person to operate your boat if they meet the above requirements. The legal definition of “operating” is to be in control of a vessel propelled wholly or in part by machinery while the vessel is underway. So if your boat is docked, at anchor, idle, or otherwise secured, you are not operating it for the purposes of Michigan law.

What Are the Penalties for Boating Under the Influence?

The maximum penalty for operating a boat while under the influence may include 93 days of imprisonment, 45 days of community service, and a fine between $100 and $500. But if your actions result in someone’s death, the offense becomes a felony carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years and a fine between $2,500 and $10,000. When your drunken operation of the motorboat causes the impairment of another person’s bodily functions, the felony is punishable by a maximum sentence of 5 years along with a possible fine between $1,000 and $5,000.

A second conviction for boating under the influence that occurs within 7 years of the first may result in a fine between $200 and $1,000, 90 days of community service, and up to 1 year in prison with a minimum 2-day sentence. No matter when it occurs, the third offense is a felony involving 1 to 5 years in prison and fines between $500 and $5,000.

When the prosecution only has evidence that you were “visibly impaired” while operating the motorboat, the maximum penalty you may face is 45 days of community service, 93 days in jail, and a fine of up to $300. A second conviction occurring 7 years or less after the first may result in 10 to 90 days of community service, up to 1 year in jail, and fines between $200 and $1,000. A third conviction is considered a felony involving 1 to 5 years in prison and/or fines between $500 and $5,000.

How Does the FAA Define Flying Under the Influence?

In March 2016, a pilot was arrested at Detroit Metropolitan Airport for being under the influence of alcohol while behind the controls of an American Airlines jet. The scandal highlighted the necessity for law enforcement to consistently monitor the sobriety of pilots in Michigan skies. Both state law enforcement and federal aviation authorities take flying under the influence very seriously because aviation accidents almost always involve loss of life or serious injury.

Although Michigan law does not explicitly forbid flying under the influence, pilots can still be prosecuted under federal law. According to 14 CFR 91.17, part of the Federal Aviation Regulations or FAR, it’s illegal to act or attempt to act as a crew member of a civil aircraft:

  • Within 8 hours of consuming any alcoholic beverage
  • While under the influence of alcohol
  • While using any drug that negatively affects your faculties
  • While having a BAC of 0.04 or greater

The maximum penalty for violating this law is 15 years in federal prison and an optional fine that can reach $250,000. In addition, the FAA may deny any applications for licenses or certificates up to 1 year after the incident, and suspend or revoke any current certificates, ratings, or authorizations you hold currently. According to14 CFR 61.16, failing to submit to a breath test when an inspector or law enforcement officer has reason to believe you are intoxicated may result in the suspension or revocation of all of your FAA certificates.

How Can Getting a DUI Affect Your Pilot’s License?

Under 14 CFR 61.15, licensed pilots must report any motor vehicle action (MAV) to the FAA within 60 days of the incident. You need to immediately report even a DUI arrest to the FAA, because an administrative license suspension—which happens automatically when you blow over the limit—is also considered a MAV under the federal aviation regulations.

If you fail to report the MVA within 60 days of its occurrence, you will face a 15 to 45 day FAA license suspension. If you fail to make a timely report of 2 MVAs within a 3-year period, you will face a 90 to 120 day suspension. And if three incidents go unreported within a 3-year span, all of your pilot certificates may be revoked.

The MVAs themselves are not grounds for the suspension of your pilot’s license unless two or more occur within a 3-year span. This means that the failure to report a DUI is more serious to your pilot’s license than getting actually getting a DUI. The interaction between Michigan’s DUI laws and the FAR is complex, so if you’re a pilot facing DUI charges, it’s essential that you work with an attorney who is knowledgeable in these matters.

Hiring the Right Michigan OWI Attorney to Fight Your Operating Under the Influence Charges

When you get charged with operating any type of vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, your future is on the line. In these cases, you need to work with a Detroit criminal defense attorney who not only knows how to defend against OWI charges, but also how to navigate the complex administrative procedures surrounding the revocation or suspension of your driving, boating, or flying licenses.

As a former prosecutor who has worked on countless operating under the influence cases, Attorney Davis knows how prosecutors build these cases. Now, he puts this experience to use in defending the rights of the accused in his criminal defense practice. If you’re facing charges for flying or boating under the influence, call the Davis Law Group today at (313) 818-3238 for a free and confidential consultation of your case.