Boating DUIs: Understanding the Use of Field Sobriety Tests in Arizona's Checkpoints

The Importance of Field Sobriety Tests in Boating DUI Cases

Arizona, like many other states, has strict laws against driving under the influence (DUI). However, many people may not realize that these laws also apply to boating under the influence (BUI). Boating while intoxicated can be just as dangerous as drunk driving and can have severe consequences. In fact, in Arizona, the penalties for a BUI conviction are similar to those for a DUI conviction. So, what happens when someone is suspected of boating under the influence? This is where field sobriety tests come in.

What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are a series of tests that law enforcement officers use to evaluate drivers and boaters suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These tests are designed to measure a person's cognitive and physical abilities to see if they are impaired. There are three standardized FSTs that police officers use in Arizona:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: A test where the officer will hold an object (usually a pen or finger) about 12-15 inches away from the suspect's face and move it back and forth while looking for an involuntary jerking of the eyes.
  • Walk-and-Turn: A test where the suspect must take nine steps in a straight line, turn on one foot, and return in the opposite direction.
  • One-Leg Stand: A test where the suspect must stand on one foot while counting out loud for 30 seconds.

Using FSTs in Boating DUI Cases

In Arizona, law enforcement agencies have the authority to set up boating DUI checkpoints, similar to roadside sobriety checkpoints, to combat and deter Operating Under the Influence (OUI) offenses on waterways. These checkpoints are designed to systematically check boaters for signs of intoxication and are legally upheld under guidelines that ensure they are conducted fairly. If an officer suspects that a boater is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they can ask the boater to perform field sobriety tests.

Field sobriety tests can be challenging to perform for anyone, even if they are sober. Some medical conditions or environmental factors, such as poor lighting or uneven ground, can affect an individual's ability to perform well on the tests. However, if the officer deems that the suspect fails the FSTs, they can make an arrest and submit a report to the court. The court will then determine if there is enough evidence to charge the boater with a BUI.

The Importance of FSTs in BUI Cases

Field sobriety tests play a critical role in BUI cases because they provide objective evidence of a boater's impairment. Unlike DUI cases, where breathalyzers and blood tests can be used to determine a driver's blood alcohol content (BAC), there is no equivalent test for boating under the influence. Even if a boater has a BAC below the legal limit of 0.08%, they can still be charged with a BUI if they are impaired by drugs or alcohol.

Without the use of FSTs, it would be challenging for law enforcement to prosecute BUI cases successfully. The officer's observations and testimony would not be sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the boater was under the influence. FSTs provide an objective way to determine if a boater's ability to operate a vessel was impaired, and are therefore crucial in helping to keep waterways safe.

Consequences of a BUI Conviction

The consequences of a BUI conviction can be severe and long-lasting. In Arizona, a first-time offender can face up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $2,500, and a suspension of their boating privileges for up to two years. These penalties increase for subsequent offenses. Additionally, a BUI conviction can result in a criminal record that can impact future employment opportunities and other aspects of a person's life.

Final Thoughts

Field sobriety tests are an essential tool that law enforcement officers use to keep waterways safe and deter boating under the influence. While FSTs can be challenging to perform, they provide objective evidence of impairment that is necessary to prosecute BUI cases. If you have been charged with a BUI in Arizona, be sure to seek the guidance of a qualified attorney who can help navigate the legal system and protect your rights.

Boating DUI Field Sobriety Tests - Arizona Lake