Iowa Supreme Court Grants Oral Argument in a GRL Law Boating While Intoxicated Case

The Iowa Supreme has requested to hear oral arguments in State v. Pettijohn, a Boating While Intoxicated case, on Thursday, September 17, 2015, at 9 am.  GRL Law's Grant Gangestad will be arguing the case for the Defendant.

The client's boat was stopped by law enforcement when a female passenger was seen dangling her feet in the water off the back of a boat that was slowly maneuvering through a no-wake zone on Saylorville Lake. The client was taken to a law enforcement center where an implied consent advisory was read to him.  This advisory told him that he would incur a penalty of anywhere between $500 and $2000 and at least a one-year revocation of his ability to operate a watercraft if he refused to submit to a breath test to measure the amount of alcohol in his blood.  The client eventually consented and provided a breath sample.  

This case presents several interesting issues. First, the law enforcement officer alleged that a passenger dangling her feet off the back of a boat constituted probable cause to stop the boat for violation of Iowa law prohibiting reckless operation of a watercraft.  The question is whether the passenger's conduct in dangling her feet in the water off the back of the boat constituted reckless operation on the part of the operator of the watercraft.  The State also argues that it was necessary to stop the boat in order to inform the boat's occupants that what the passenger was doing was unsafe.  The Defense argues that a stop and seizure of the boat was not necessary under the circumstances.  

Second, and more interestingly, the defendant has also challenged the constitutionality of the State's ability to take away a person's "boating privilege" for refusing to submit to a breath test according to Iowa's "implied consent" law.  Implied consent means that, in order to drive on public roadways, you impliedly agree to submit to a breath test (or other chemical test) in return for using those roadways.  If you don't submit, you lose your right to operate on public roads.  The purpose is to make sure that everyone using the roadways is safe. Driving on public roadways in the State is a privilege, not a right.  There is no law, however, that requires a boat operator to have a "boating license."  In fact, boating licenses do not exist in Iowa.  Everyone has the natural right to travel on the navigable waterways of this country.  The argument is a bit complicated, but the question essentially becomes: How can the State take away your "license" to drive a boat when there is no license to begin with? 

Third, the defendant also challenges the advisory that was read to him that stated the consequences of refusing the breath test.  The advisory said that, if he refused the test, he could be subject to a $500 up to $2000 penalty and a boating revocation for at least one year.  This was a first offense for the Defendant. Therefore, the most that he could have been subject to was $500 and a one year boating revocation.  The higher dollar amounts (up to $2000) only applied to second and third or subsequent offenses and the boating revocations of over one year also did not apply to the defendant.  The question is: Did the poorly worded advisory that was read to the defendant unfairly coerce him into taking the test because he believed that he may have to pay $2000 and face a boating revocation of several years if he refused when those penalties did not actually apply to him?

These are all issues that the Court has never decided upon in the past and it will be interesting to see how the Court resolves them.  If you are interested in watching how this case unfolds, click the link below on the morning of the argument to view the live stream:

If you ever find yourself on the wrong end of a boating while intoxicated charge, call the attorneys at GRL Law to ensure that your rights are protected and every possible avenue is explored to secure you the best result possible.