Boating Accident Highlights Difference with DUI Law

Jay Middle School principal Roger Shane Carroll of Eucha, will stand trial in Delaware County District Court for first-degree manslaughter and reckless operation of a vessel following a boating accident last July that claimed the life of Monte Price, also from Jay.  The accident highlights the substantial difference in penalties between boating under the influence and driving under the influence in Oklahoma.

According to reports, the men and two other passengers were leaving a wedding reception aboard a passenger boat when it struck a breakwater structure near Arrowhead South Marina about 2 a.m. on July 29.  According to an investigation by the Grand River Dam Authority, alcohol use and excessive speed contributed to the boating accident, but the Delaware County District Attorney did not charge Carroll with Operation of Vessel Under Influence of Alcohol in violation of 63 O.S. Section 4210.8.  While Oklahoma law does have a criminal penalty for boating under the influence, state law makes several important distinctions between boating under the influence and driving under the influence.

It is a misdemeanor crime under Oklahoma law to operate a boat under the influence of alcohol in a concentration greater than 0.08%.  Oklahoma has a similar criminal penalty for driving under the influence.  See 47 O.S. Sec. 11-902.  However, unlike the criminal offense for Driving Under the Influence, the district attorney cannot enhance the charge of boating under the influence based upon the concentration of alcohol in the blood stream.  In other words, while the state may charge a person with Aggravated DUI if their blood alcohol concentration exceeds 0.15%, there is no such thing as “Aggravated” Boating Under the Influence.  The “Boating While Intoxicated” statute makes no distinction between a person who is slightly intoxicated versus someone who is substantially impaired.

Another key difference is the penalty.  In the DUI context, a second DUI conviction permits the district attorney to file felony charges against the driver and seek enhanced penalties.  In the context of Boating Under the Influence, however, any subsequent charge is still a misdemeanor crime. The district attorney is powerless to bring felony charges against people who are constantly arrested for Boating Under the Influence.

Whether Oklahoma’s laws that regulate boating under the influence represent sound public policy is a decision best left to the Oklahoma Legislature, but if experience is any indicator, the relatively soft penalties for boating under the influence will do little to deter future boating accidents.

More coverage here:  Jay Middle School principal faces trial in death of boater