Billy Bowlegs Festival Targeted by Fort Walton Beach Law Enforcement for BUI

We see this every year. Okaloosa County Fish and Wildlife Officers set up perimeters around the area of the festival, Crab Island, and other patrol maritime choke points, constantly looking for potentially impaired boaters and rowdy partiers.

And each June, dozens are arrested during the annual Billy Bowlegs Festival held in Fort Walton Beach and Destin. The types of cases were similar: DUI and BUI (Boating under the Influence), as well as Disorderly Conduct, (Breach of Peace), and Resisting Arrest (Resisting Officer).

Is law enforcement being opportunistic with BUI cases?

Of course! This is a maritime festival. People are on their boats having a good time and it is party-atmosphere. If anyone is drinking a beer or beverage, then later operates or moves their boat, the police will swarm in to make them do field sobriety tests. So yes, is easy for people to get targeted and arrested because the officers can simply pick people out and order them to do field sobriety tasks, even while they are still on the water. And if they think you might be impaired, they will detain you and take you to shore for even more tests, including Breath Alcohol! And most people perform field sobriety tests poorly on a boat, in the hot sun, slightly tired and dehydrated.

Is it possible to get a Boating Under the Influence (BUI) case reduced?

Yes. It depends on the individual case, but very often a Boating Under the Influence is reduced to a lesser charge Reckless Operation of a Vessel. Reckless Operation is a very broad charge and does not have a connotation of being related to a drug or alcohol based offense which is very important for most clients. Especially for military clients, an alcohol related charge has severe ramifications on someone’s career.

Can I get a BUI charge dismissed completely?

Yes. But it normally requires a specific fact pattern and the ability to challenge the officer’s legal basis for establishing probable cause at the time you were initially detained or arrested. In my experience, there are two basic scenarios that could produce a clean dismissal. I have used both of these approaches to full effect in order to obtain a dismissal result for clients charged with BUI (as well as DUI):

  1. Your attorney files a Motion to Suppress Evidence based on a lack of probable cause to detain you at the time your boat or vessel was stopped by the officers. If the Judge grants the Motion, then there would be no impairment evidence and no case for the prosecutor. Then your attorney can follow up with a Motion to Dismiss the case.
  2. The case is set for trial and the prosecutor dismisses the case because they feel that they do not have sufficient evidence of impairment to win.

If you’ve been arrested for Boating Under The Influence (BUI) near Fort Walton Beach or Destin, give me a call at (850) 362-6655 for a free consultation and overview of how I see your issue playing out.