Austin BWI Lawyer
Boating While Intoxicated Defense: Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer
Navigating the legal waters of the legal system in Austin and Central Texas demands the expertise of skilled criminal defense lawyers. If you find yourself facing a BWI criminal charge in Austin, TX, criminal defense lawyer Rob Chesnutt at ATX Legal can help. Rob is a native Texan, and is extremely familiar with the criminal justice system in Central Texas.
2023 Travis County DWI Guide
ATX Legal is always committed to providing open communication throughout the process while securing the most favorable outcome for your case. Fill out a contact form or call us to schedule a free consultation.
Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer
ATX Legal criminal defense attorney Rob Chesnutt brings over ten years of experience in Austin criminal defense to the table, ensuring you receive the best possible DWI defense. Rob is the lawyer who will be handling your case start-to-finish, and returns all calls/messages within 24 business hours.
Understanding BWI Charges
Boating while intoxicated is a very similar to a DWI charge. If the criminal case is improperly handled, it can have lasting consequences on your criminal record. Just like with a DWI, boating while intoxicated can lead to jail time or probation, steep fines, and a suspended boating license. Additionally, a BWI conviction can affect your ability to obtain certain jobs, professional licenses, or loans in the future.
Texas Criminal Code on BWI
Section 49.06 of the Texas Penal Code, provides clarity for BWI charges. The term “watercraft” extends to any vessel, boat, or other craft used for transporting people on water, with the exception of a seaplane or a craft propelled by a stationary oar.
Intoxication is legally defined as not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties due to the consumption of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance in the body. Further, Texas law defines a person as “per se” intoxicated if their blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08% or higher.
A first time BWI offense is classified as a Class B misdemeanor, with a minimum term of confinement of 72 hours. If the person charged has had a previous BWI or DWI conviction, penalties can be significantly more severe. As such, a robust defense is crucial to mitigate the potential consequences of a BWI charge.
In Texas, you can be charged with BWI if you are operating a watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This includes motorized boats, sailboats, jet skis, or any other water vessel.
An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to keep the penalties on the lighter side, or can sometimes challenge the State’s evidence to have cases dismissed completely.
Patrolling for BWI in Austin
In the city of Austin, law enforcement officials have implemented various measures to patrol and curb instances of Boating While Intoxicated. The Austin Police Department’s Lake Patrol Unit, for instance, is dedicated to maintaining safety on Austin’s waterways. Officers on duty frequently patrol popular water bodies, such as Lake Austin, Lady Bird Lake, and Lake Travis, particularly during peak boating season and major holidays. They conduct random safety inspections and sobriety checks on watercraft operators.
Factors such as erratic boat operation, excessive speed, or violation of navigation rules can draw the attention of patrolling officers, potentially leading to a BWI investigation. The investigation typically includes field sobriety tests. Much like roadside tests for motorists, these are designed to assess an individual’s impairment level. Failing these tests or refusing to take them can lead to arrest and BWI charges.
In addition, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department employs game wardens who have the authority to stop and board vessels if they suspect the operator is intoxicated. Refusing to comply with officers’ instructions during such inspections can also result in legal penalties.
Jail Release for BWI
If an individual is arrested for Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) in Austin, they typically will be taken to Travis County Jail. A licensed defense attorney can help obtain a Personal Recognizance (PR) bond, which is a commitment to appear in court without the need to post money for bail.
Alternatively, a cash or surety bond can also be arranged. These require a financial guarantee that the defendant will appear in court for all required proceedings. It’s worth noting that the quicker the release process is initiated, the faster the arrested individual can return to their daily life. Opting to hire a criminal defense attorney can significantly expedite this process, safeguarding the rights of the accused and ensuring all legal protocols are properly followed.
The penalties for BWI in Texas vary depending on the number of previous convictions and other factors. They are essentially identical to DWI penalties. For first-time offenders, a BWI charge can result in jail time up to 180 days, fines up to $2,000, and suspension of boating privileges. Repeat offenses may lead to even harsher penalties.
For second-time offenders, the penalties increase. Individuals may face jail time ranging from 30 days to a full year, and fines could reach up to $4,000. Additionally, their boating license may be suspended for a longer duration.
If someone is convicted for a third time, it is considered a third-degree felony, which carries severe consequences. The jail sentence for this offense can range from 2 to 10 years, and fines may go up to $10,000. It should go without saying that a felony conviction will have a profound impact on your life. The enhanced penalties can affect future DWI charges as well. Speak to your criminal defense lawyer and understand the consequences before agreeing to take a BWI conviction.
Defending Against BWI Charges
While a BWI charge can feel overwhelming, an experienced defense lawyer can identify a number of potential defenses. One common defense strategy is to challenge the validity of the sobriety tests administered or the procedures followed during the arrest. Flaws in the arrest process or inaccuracies in the tests can lead to a dismissal or reduction of charges.
Moreover, if the officer lacked probable cause for the BWI stop, the evidence obtained may be deemed inadmissible. However, unlike a traffic stop, officers have the ability to stop a boat at any time for a routine check. Remember, criminal defense cases are unique, and your defense strategy should be tailored to the specifics of your situation.
Plea Bargaining for BWI Cases
In some cases, plea bargaining can be an effective strategy for reducing the severity of BWI penalties. This involves your criminal law attorney negotiating a plea deal with the prosecution for a lesser charge. For instance, you might be able to plead to a reckless boating offense rather than a BWI. Sometimes you can avoid a criminal conviction entirely.
These cases often depend on the strength of the evidence against you and the specifics of your case. Always consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer so you can have a full understanding of the plea bargaining process and ensure your rights are protected.
Pretrial Diversion for BWI Charges
Pretrial diversion is another legal avenue that might be available to individuals facing BWI charges. This is essentially a rehabilitation program for offenders, typically first-timers, with the goal of preventing future unlawful behavior.
During a pretrial diversion, the offender may be required to undergo alcohol education, counseling, community service, and other stipulations over a specific period. Upon successful completion of the program, the BWI charges are often dismissed, and the incident may be expunged from the offender’s record.
Eligibility for pretrial diversion varies based on jurisdiction and the specifics of the case. Certain factors such as the offender’s criminal history and the severity of the offense can impact eligibility. It is essential to consult with a seasoned attorney who can advise on the possibility and appropriateness of a pretrial diversion in your case. If available, speak to your criminal defense attorney about this program, because it is a great option for many.
Can I lose my driver’s license because of a BWI?
In some instances, yes. Although a BWI is primarily associated with boating privileges, the court can order a suspension of your driver’s license depending on the nature and severity of your case.
Can I have an open container on the boat?
Texas law does not prohibit open containers on boats. However, it is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol, which is the main concern in BWI cases.
Does a BWI conviction go on my criminal record?
Yes, a BWI conviction will appear on your criminal record, similarly to a DWI. This can have potential impacts on your professional life and future opportunities. Talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend against such charges and mitigate potential long-term effects.
Are field sobriety tests different for BWI?
Yes, field sobriety tests for BWI can differ from those conducted during a roadside DWI stop. This is due to the environmental factors unique to boating, such as the rocking motion of the boat or the effects of extended sun exposure.
However, similar to a DWI, officers will observe your physical and cognitive abilities to determine if you are impaired. This can include requesting you to perform certain tasks or answer questions.
Floating Seated Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) are specialized tests for individuals suspected of Boating While Intoxicated (BWI). These tests are designed to assess impairment while accommodating the unique conditions found on a boat. Unlike traditional roadside sobriety tests, Floating Seated FSTs are conducted while the suspect is seated due to the inherent instability of a boat on water.
These tests may include tasks such as finger-to-nose touch, horizontal gaze nystagmus, and hand pat. The officer will carefully observe the individual’s performance and any signs of impairment, such as lack of balance, inability to follow instructions, or slurred speech. It’s important to remember that while these tests are intended to assess intoxication, factors like sea conditions, sun exposure, or even sea sickness can potentially affect the results. Therefore, consultation with a criminal defense attorney is important for challenging these tests.
Legal Guidance Every Step of the Way
Facing criminal charges can be daunting, but our criminal defense attorneys are here to help. Whether you’re in Hays, Williamson or Travis County we can help you with your criminal case. Austin criminal defense lawyer Rob Chesnutt is great with communication, and will work to get a favorable outcome for you.
Protect Your Rights: Consult with an Austin Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or someone you know is facing BWI charges, seek the advice of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Our law office has been providing legal representation for Austin clients since 2014. Call or fill out a contact form with ATX Legal for a free consultation with an experienced lawyer, and let us navigate the legal waters for you.