Dozens of people are arrested each year for suspicion of boating under the influence (BUI) during the weekend Seafair festivities on Lake Washington. After being taken to Proctor Landing on Mercer Island for breath test processing, people arrested for BUI are usually released from custody with nothing more than a copy of the breath test ticket. It then turns into a waiting game for the BUI charge to be filed.
BUI in Washington state is a misdemeanor (the lowest level criminal offense) and carries a maximum punishment of 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine (see BUI statute). Unlike driving under the influence, an arrest for BUI does not trigger an administrative license suspension nor does a conviction carry a mandatory license suspension or conviction. While there might not be a license suspension, a conviction for BUI will go on a person's driving history and has the potential of an insurance rate increase.
Persons arrested for a Seafair BUI will be prosecuted by the King County Prosecutor's office. In previous years, the cases were all filed in the Redmond Division of the King County District Court. A BUI charge is filed via "investigation" and usually happens several weeks following the incident. It is important that a person accused of a Seafair BUI retain the services of an attorney shortly after their arrest. The lawyer and his staff can monitor the court systems for when charges are filed. The statute of limitations (maximum amount of time for when the prosecutor can file a charge) is one year.
Once a BUI charge is filed, the court will set a court date for an arraignment. Notice of the court date will be sent to the accused. If a person has retained a lawyer, the arraignment can be waived by the lawyer by filing what is called a "notice of appearance" with a waiver of arraignment. If a person does not have an attorney, they must appear for this first court appearance and enter a plea which should always be "not guilty."
When an attorney files a notice of appearance with the court and prosecutor, he or she will then receive a copy of the police report from the prosecutor. Typically, the King County prosecutor will also provide an offer for resolution of the case. Most of the time the initial offer is not worth accepting.
The subsequent court appearance following the arraignment is a pre-trial conference (PTC). The purpose of this hearing is for further negotiations between the prosecutor and the defense attorney. There could be multiple PTC's for a Seafair BUI as negotiations continue. Should an acceptable resolution surface, a person could resolve their BUI charge at a PTC. Otherwise, if the negotiations are stalemated, the attorney would then set the case for motions and/or trial.
Some potential motions to be raised for BUI include whether there was probable cause to stop, detain and/or arrest an individual for BUI, whether there was voluntary consent to perform field tests, whether there are any custodial statements and whether the breath test was administered properly. After the motions are heard, the case will then proceed to a readiness hearing which is the last stage before trial and the final opportunity between the parties to find a resolution. Should a deal not be reached, the case would then proceed to a jury trial of 6 persons.
Most Seafair BUI charges do not go all the way to trial. That being said, it is still very important for anyone arrested for a Seafair BUI to have an experienced attorney representing them. A very common (and in my opinion, optimal) way of resolving a BUI charge is to have it amended to "operation of a vessel in a negligent manner" which is merely an infraction that carries only a monetary penalty (See statute). This is not a conviction for a crime. Rather, it is comprable to a traffic infraction.
The attorneys at Wolff Criminal Defense have been representing boaters accused of a Seafair BUI for the past decade. They offer a free initial consultation and are avaiable 7 days and can be reached directly by calling 425-284-2000.