Proposed new law would require probable cause to stop boaters
If one Florida lawmaker has his way, local law enforcement agencies won't be able to stop your boat just to do a ‘safety check' – but not everyone thinks that's a good idea.
State Representative Ritch Workman, (R-Melbourne), apparently does not like the fact that officers from Florida Fish & Wildlife, as well as any other local municipal law enforcement agency that operates a marine unit, can stop a boater at will. He and his friends and family have apparently been pulled over for what he feels is no reason, and he says it has “stolen time from my family and nobody asked you”.
As an avid Southwest Florida boater and criminal defense attorney, Scot D. Goldberg, of Goldberg, Racila, D'Alessandro & Noone in Fort Myers, understands Workman's position – but thinks there are factors that need to be considered.
“Anyone that knows me will tell you that I am not a fan of police being able to pull you over for no apparent reason”, Goldberg says. “I make my living defending people who I feel have been wrongly accused or wrongly arrested, so I fully get what Representative Workman is trying to do”.
But as a boater, Goldberg also understands that there is a huge need for law enforcement on our local waterways.
“I spend most of my weekends on the water – in fact, one of my favorite things to do is camp out for the whole weekend on an island and do some kayak fishing with my family and friends,” he points out. “There is hardly a day that we don't see some idiot doing something stupid in his boat, whether it relates to how or where they are fishing, speeding where they shouldn't be, or some other bonehead maneuver. So, I just think this proposed new law is going to be an uphill battle”.
According to current Florida law, FWC officers are allowed to investigate a vessel for routine safety inspections to ensure the operator is not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and that the boat is equipped with the required safety equipment. They may also stop a boat to conduct a marine fisheries inspection “when it is apparent that the boat occupants have engaged in highly regulated activities such as fishing or hunting”, according to FWC's law enforcement division spokesman Ron Klepper in an email to Florida Today.
As of now, law enforcement officers need nothing more than a ‘feeling' that there may be something illegal going on aboard a suspect vessel, and that's what Workman's new bill would change. “The cops would need to demonstrate more than just a hunch to pull you over – they would need to show some type of probable cause,” says Goldberg.
A lifelong Lee County resident who was raised in North Fort Myers, Goldberg has spent much of his life on the water. “When I was a kid, we lived right on the Caloosahatchee River, and my family spent a huge amount of time on the water”, says Goldberg. “Just like on the highway, I think any law enforcement officer needs to show exactly why they pulled you over. The bottom line is if you aren't doing anything stupid to draw attention to yourself, or engaging in any illegal activity, then you should be able to go about your boating and having fun with your family without the headaches involved with being stopped”.
If it passes, Workman's proposed law would go into effect on July 1st, 2016. (Read the entirety of the proposed bill here).
2014 Lee County, FL Boating Accidents by the Numbers
According to the most recent statistics published by the national Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement Division, Lee County ranked number 5 in Florida in relation to reportable boating accidents in 2014:
PRIMARY TYPE OF ACCIDENT
- Collision with vessel: 10
- Flooding or swamping: 5
- Collision with fixed object: 5
- Vessel wake damage: 4
- Struck underwater object: 3
- Grounding: 2
- Fall in boat: 2
- Fire / explosion (non-fuel): 2
- Fall overboard: 1
- Fall on personal watercraft: 1
- Fire / explosion (fuel): 1
- Capsizing: 1
This newest report from FWC contains a lot of interesting information on boating accident statistics – to download the complete PDF, click here.
As a criminal defense attorney in Southwest Florida for over 20 years, Scot Goldberg has successfully defended hundreds of clients who have been accused or arrested for some type of crime related to an alleged boating or fishing offense. If you or someone you know finds yourself in trouble with the law, one phone call is all it takes to get help for your situation. Call 239-461-5508, or you can email Scot directly at [email protected].