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Coast Guard Hearings: Another Way to Lose Money on a BUI Arrest

           Faced with a BUI charge?  Well, there could be more bad news.  In addition to facing criminal charges, a boater arrested for BUI can face a fine of up to $7,000 if the arresting agency refers the matter to the United States Coast Guard.  The following is a brief summary of this process.

Civil Administrative Coast Guard Hearings

            Boaters accused of operating under the influence are not immune from civil administrative hearings. If a local or state law enforcement agency makes a report to the Coast Guard of an operator's arrest for BUI, it is highly likely that a civil hearing will be scheduled in order to determine if a fine is imposed by the federal government and, if so, how much.

[1] United States Coast Guard General Authorities

            The federal statute provides:

The Secretary has general superintendence over the merchant marine of the United States and of merchant marine personnel insofar as the enforcement of this subtitle is concerned and insofar as those vessels and personnel are not subject, under other law, to the supervision of another official of the United States Government. In the interests of marine safety and seamen's welfare, the Secretary shall enforce this subtitle and shall carry out correctly and uniformly administer this subtitle. The Secretary may prescribe regulations to carry out the provisions of this subtitle.17

            Whereas DOL hearings on DUIs pertain only to one's driving privilege in the State of Washington, Coast Guard Civil Hearings pertain only to the imposition of a monetary fine.18 Moreover, Coast Guard hearing officers are given considerably more leeway in determining the appropriate penalty than their DOL counterparts.19 Equitable grounds exist for Coast Guard hearing officers whereas equity has long since died before the Department of Licensing.

            Any person may report an apparent violation of any law, regulation, or order that is enforced by the Coast Guard to the District Commander20 at any Coast Guard facility.21 Whenever a report of violation is received, the matter is to be evaluated by the District Commander of the district in which the violation is believed to have occurred or the district in which the reporting agency is found.22 If the District Commander finds sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case, a case filed is prepared and forwarded to a Coast Guard hearing officer with a recommended action.23

            Coast Guard hearing officers have no responsibility for the investigation of any case submitted to them for consideration of a civil fine.24 They must decide each case based upon the evidence presented to them. They cannot have any prior connection with the case they are deciding.25 They do have the authority to administer oaths and issue subpoenas necessary to the conduct of a hearing and to the extent provided by law.26

[2] Civil Penalty Procedures

            The federal statute provides:

(a) After notice and an opportunity for a hearing, a person found by the Secretary to have violated this subtitle or a regulation prescribed under this subtitle for which a civil penalty is provided, is liable to the United States Government for the civil penalty provided. The amount of the civil penalty shall be assessed by the Secretary by written notice. In determining the amount of the penalty, the Secretary shall consider the nature, circumstances, extent, and gravity of the prohibited acts committed and, with respect to the violator, the degree of culpability, any history of prior offenses, ability to pay, and other matters that justice requires.

(b) The Secretary may compromise, modify, or remit, with or without consideration, a civil penalty under this subtitle until the assessment is referred to the Attorney General.

(c) If a person fails to pay an assessment of a civil penalty after it has become final, the Secretary may refer the matter to the Attorney General for collection in an appropriate district court of the United States.27

            The procedural process is a maze of bureaucracy.  The process begins when the marine violation case is sent to the appropriate office, where a hearing officer makes an initial determination as to what fine should be imposed. The officer can assess a fine up to $7,000. In addition to the factors mentioned above, the hearing officer also takes into account the mandates of federal law. State law does not apply here, so even if your client was technically not in violation of RCW 79A.60.040, he/she may have violated federal statutes prohibiting similar conduct. Remember, even if the client has been fortunate enough to plea bargain the case down to a lesser charge the client will not be immune from potential civil penalties from the Coast Guard.

1746 U.S.C. § 2103.

1846 U.S.C. § 2302(a), (c).

1946 U.S.C. § 2107.

20The term “District Commander” means the District Commander or any person under the District Commander's command, delegated to carry out the provisions of C.F.R. § 1.07-10(b). 33 C.F.R. 1.07-5(a).

2133 C.F.R. 1.07-10(a).

2233 C.F.R. 1.07-10(b).


2433 C.F.R. 1.07-15(a).

2533 C.F.R. 1.07-15(b).

2633 C.F.R. 1.07-15(c).

2746 U.S.C. § 2107.

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