California’s strict DUI laws may be extended to boaters

by | Mar 29, 2015 | DUI

A California assembly member has introduced a new bill this week that would expand DUI tests to those driving boats.

California already has some of the strictest drunk driving and DUI laws in the country. This proposed legislation, AB 539, would toughen boating laws as well and is aimed at improving safety off of California’s shores. Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Some studies show that alcohol is involved in twenty-five percent of all boat-related deaths.

Operating a vessel while intoxicated is already a misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $1,000, or both. If you cause an injury while operating a boat under the influence of alcohol, you may be charged with a felony and face up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Like drivers suspected of driving while under the influence of alcohol, a person arrested for operating a boat under the influence may be requested to take a blood or breath test. Refusal to submit to a test may result in increased penalties.

This proposed bill expands on SB 717, which the governor signed into law in 2013. That law allows law enforcement to obtain search warrants to test the blood of drivers whom they suspect of driving under the influence when the driver refuses to submit to a blood test. AB 539 would likewise allow law enforcement to obtain a search warrant to test the blood of a person they suspect of operating a marine vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

For drivers, California has an implied consent law, meaning that anyone who gets a driver’s license in California agrees that if he is arrested for suspected driving under the influence, he must submit to a blood test. Under the new 2013 law, the police must get a warrant unless there are so-called “exigent circumstances.” Exigent circumstances are those in which there is an emergency and waiting for a warrant could cause injury, death, or the loss of crucial evidence. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Missouri v. McNeely, stated that the natural metabolization of alcohol in the bloodstream is not an exigent circumstance warranting an exception to the warrant requirement in every case. What is an exigent circumstance will depend on the circumstances of each case.

While the California law does not create a strict rule that a warrant is required each and every time, it does give drivers a bit more protection. It should put an end to—or at least reduce the number of—forced blood draws on routine stops.

To learn more, call our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm at 213-995-6767 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.