Coast Guard Hearings
If you have been arrested by law enforcement for a BUI, you may be referred to the United States Coast Guard for an administrative hearing. At this hearing, if a Coast Guard Administrative Judge finds that you operated a vessel while under the influence, costly fines may be imposed. The USCG has the authority to fine an boater, up to $7,000 if they have operated a vessel while under the influence.
Coast Guard Hearing Procedures
Any boater, accused of Negligent, Reckless Operation of a Vessel, or accused of Operating a Vessel while under the influence of alcohol, may be subjected to a civil administrative hearing, held by the United States Coast Guard, to determine and assess a civil monetary penalty. For official information regarding Coast Guard Hearings, please visit: http://www.uscg.mil/legal/cgho/CGHO_Options.asp
1. United States Coast Guard General Authorities:
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.1
Coast Guard Civil Hearings pertain only to the imposition of a monetary fine. Moreover, Coast Guard hearing officers are given considerably more leeway in determining the appropriate penalty than what occurs in Washington State DOL hearings for those accused of DUI. Any person may report an apparent violation of any law, regulation or order that is enforced by the Coast Guard to the District Commander at any Coast Guard facility. 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 if found. 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.
Coast Guard hearing officers have no responsibility for the investigation of any case submitted to them for consideration of a civil fine. They must decide each case based upon the evidence presented to them. They cannot have any prior connection with the case they are deciding. 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.
2. Civil penalty procedures
(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.
A flowchart to illustrate how the civil Coast Guard hearing works is included. The process begins when the marine violation case is sent to the appropriate office. There a hearing officer will make an initial determination as to how much of a fine should be imposed. The hearing officer can assess a fine all the way up to $7,000. In addition to the factors previously mentioned, the hearing officer will also take into account the mandates of Federal Law. Note, State law does not apply here so even if are not technically in violation of RCW 79A.60.040, you may be in violation of Federal Statutes prohibiting similar conduct.
3. Operation of Vessels Generally: 46 USC 2302.
(a) A person operating a vessel in a negligent manner or interfering with the safe operation of a vessel, so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of a person is liable to the United States Government for a civil penalty of not more than $7,000 in the case of a recreational vessel, or $25,000 in the case of any other vessel.
A person operating a vessel in a grossly negligent manner that endangers the life, limb or property of a person commits a class A misdemeanor.
(b) An individual who is under the influence of alcohol, or dangerous drug in violation of a law of the United States when operating a vessel, as determined under standards prescribed by the Secretary by regulation:
- is liable to the United States Government for a civil penalty of not more than $5,000; or
- commits a class A misdemeanor.
Once the assigned hearing officer has made a determination as to what they believe the appropriate fine to be, a letter a letter will be sent to the operator. This letter must include the following information:
- It must set forth the alleged violation and the applicable law or regulations violated;
- the amount of the maximum penalty that may be asses for each violation;
- The amount of proposed penalty that appears to be appropriate;
- A statement that payment of the proposed penalty within 45 days will settle the case;
- A place to which, and the manner in which, payment is to be made;
- A statement that the party may decline the Notice of Violation and that if the Notice of Violation is declined, the party has the right to a hearing prior to a final assessment of a penalty by a Hearing Officer;
- A statement that failure to either pay the proposed penalty on the Notice of Violation or decline the Notice of Violation and request as hearing within 45 days will result in a finding of default and the Coast Guard will proceed with the civil penalty in the amount recommended on the Notice of Violation without processing the violation under the procedures set forth in 33 C.F.R. 1.07-10(b).
- Explain the fine and set forth three options for the boater: (1) they may pay the fine within 20 days in full and the case will be closed, or; (2) they may contest the fine in writing by submitting evidence to the hearing officer within 20 days, or; (3) they may request a hearing within 20 days to contest the fine.
For purposes of a Coast Guard civil hearing, a person is an “operator” when they have an essential role in the operation of a recreational vessel underway. Being an operator may also include navigation of the vessel or control of the vessel's propulsion system. Similar to DOL hearings, where the State must set forth prima facie evidence of “reasonable grounds” to believe that a person is driving while under the influence prior to having authority to require breath or blood testing, the reporting agency to the Coast Guard must establish “reasonable cause.” Reasonable cause exists if: (1) a person was directly involved in the occurrence of a marine casualty; or the boater is suspected of being in violation of local BUI statutes and/or breath limits. The legal limit before the United States Coast Guard hearings is 0.08, however, if a local jurisdiction has established a lower legal limit, that limit shall apply at the civil hearing. An operator is under the influence when they have a BAC of 0.08 or more in their blood, or; the individual is operating any vessel and the effect of the intoxicants consumed can be detected in their manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance and/or muscle movement. Acceptable evidence of an operator being under the influence includes: personal observations of the individual's manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance, behavior and/or a chemical test.
4. The Hearing Process
The hearing process itself is quite informal. Remember, since federal laws apply, and this hearing is administrative in nature, the rules of evidence and other statutory objections are traditionally overlooked and inapplicable before a Coast Guard Hearing Officer. In general, these are informal hearings where listen and consider all arguments before issuing their ruling.
The hearing itself, is conducted much the same way as an in-person DOL hearing. The matters are recorded, however no formal admission of the police report is conducted. After setting forth the allegations and the proposed fine, your attorney is allowed to make any and all arguments which could reasonably be supported by the law, the facts and the rules of ethics. Typically, no testimony is taken, however the operator is not precluded from testifying. Should you choose to testify, you will be sworn in and testify under oath. Should you choose to testify, you are subject to examination by the Hearing Officer. Rulings are not typically made until several months following the hearing.
For further information on Coast Guard Hearings and the applicable statutes and regulations, click any of the following: