Minnesota traffic laws hold that police cannot stop a driver unless they have probable cause to believe that a violation has occurred. You are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures, so police can’t just randomly stop you and start looking for evidence of a crime. If they have no probable cause for pulling you over, the whole case can be thrown out.
You would think that the same logic would apply to boats in Minnesota, especially considering a DWI and BWI are handled in a similar manner, but unfortunately that’s not exactly true. While police do need probable cause to arrest a person for boating while intoxicated, they don’t necessarily need probable cause to stop your boat and collect more information about the situation. We take a closer look at the murky waters of probable cause when it comes to boating while intoxicated in Minnesota.
Establishing Probable Cause On A Boat
Let’s start with the good news. Laws regarding alcohol consumption are much more relaxed on the water in Minnesota, as both passengers and the driver are allowed to have open containers of alcohol in their possession while they are riding or piloting a boat. So long as the driver remains under the legal limit and drives in a safe manner, you should not have to worry about anything from police. Moreover, since having an open alcohol container is legal on the water, an officer cannot stop a boat and force a driver to take a breathalyzer simply because they observed the driver consuming alcohol. This alone would not merit probable cause to conduct a stop on the water.
Unfortunately, police can get a little bit more creative on the water about how they find this probable cause. Police are legally allowed to stop boats and conduct what’s known as a “water safety check.” This could involve making sure there are enough life jackets on the boat for all occupants or ensuring identification numbers are present and current on the boat. During this interaction with the driver, if they notice that he’s slurring his words, has bloodshot eyes or is acting in a manner they believe suggests he may be under the influence, that may be enough probable cause to begin a BWI assessment. As you can see, a legal and unrelated stop can lead to the subjective development of probable cause. It’s not ideal, and it’s something a good lawyer will challenge, but police can find ways to stop you and look for probable cause without specifically suspecting that you are under the influence prior to stopping your boat.
Boating season is almost here in Minnesota, and it’s imperative that you are smart about how you approach this season if you’ll be captaining a boat this summer. While you can legally drink behind the wheel, police can stop you for a water safety check or if they see you performing any dangerous maneuvers on the water. They can then use the interaction to obtain probable cause to conduct a BWI test, which could lead to a suspension of both your boating and driving privileges.
If you or someone you know has been charged with BWI or wants to challenge another citation they received on the water this year, reach out to Avery and the team at Appelman Law Firm today at (952) 224-2277.