PA 09-140—sSB 832

Environment Committee

Judiciary Committee


SUMMARY: This act re-categorizes an existing boating safety law and increases the penalty for violators by creating the crime of manslaughter in the second degree with a vessel (e. g. , a boat), which under the act is a class C felony and similar to the motor vehicle law. Under prior law, the crime of reckless operation of a vessel in the first degree while under the influence included killing someone while operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The act takes the prior law's provisions concerning reckless operation of a vessel in the first degree while under the influence and places them under the new category of “manslaughter in the second degree with a vessel.

Under prior law, the penalty for this violation was a fine of between $2,500 and $5000, up to two years in prison, or both. The act increases the penalty to a class C felony (see Table on Penalties). But, the law retains the former penalty for reckless operation in the 1st degree while under the influence that results in serious physical injury to another person or property damage above $2,000.

The act also makes technical and conforming changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2009.


Under the act, a person is guilty of this offense when, under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug, or both, he or she kills someone while operating a vessel on state waters as a consequence of the liquor's or drug's effect. For anyone found guilty of this offense, the court must suspend his or her safe boating or personal watercraft (e. g. , jet ski) operation certificate for one year.

The act extends requirements and provisions under prior law that concerned reckless operation in the first degree while under the influence to the crime of second degree manslaughter with a vessel under the act. These include:

1. anyone whose boating certificate is suspended must participate in and complete an alcohol abuse and treatment program;

2. “operate” means the vessel is underway or aground and not moored, anchored, or docked;

3. the clerk of the court where a person is convicted must inform the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) commissioner no later than 30 days after a boater's conviction for an operating under the influence violation (DEP administers safe boating and personal watercraft operation certificates required to operate vessels);

4. only authorized peace officers may enforce drunken boating laws and these officers may take the vessels of violators into custody or impound them;

5. any fines imposed must be placed in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund (the fund provides financial assistance to crime victims);

6. when test results indicate a vessel operator violated the law by operating a vessel with an elevated blood alcohol content at the time of an accident, the peace officer who obtains the results of a chemical analysis of a blood sample taken from the vessel operator who was involved in an accident and suffered or allegedly suffered physical injury in the accident must notify the DEP commissioner and submit a written report to her;

7. evidence respecting the amount of alcohol or drug in a defendant's blood or urine at the time of an alleged offense as shown by a chemical analysis of his or her breath, blood, or urine is admissible as the law provides (e. g. , given that the defendant was provided reasonable opportunity to call an attorney before the test from which the analysis was made);

8. when a defendant refused a blood, breath, or urine test for an alleged violation and is tried by a jury, the court must instruct the jury as to any inference that may or may not be drawn from his or her refusal;

9. operating a boat while a certificate or right to operate is suspended or revoked for drunken boating results in a fine of between $500 and $1,000 and prison for up to one year, with 30 days of prison mandatory, unless there are mitigating circumstances;

10. requiring anyone whose safe boating or personal watercraft operation certificate is suspended to return the certificate to DEP within two days of suspension or revocation; and

11. if the defendant satisfactorily completes a pre-trial alcohol education program, he or she may apply for dismissal of the charges; upon a finding of satisfactory completion, the court must dismiss the charges and DEP must keep a record of program completion as part of the person's boater certification record for seven years.


Vehicular Manslaughter

By law, a person commits the crime of manslaughter in the second degree with a motor vehicle when, while operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or any drug, he or she causes the death of another person as a consequence of the effect of the alcohol or drugs. The penalty is a class C felony (see Table on Penalties).

OLR Tracking: JRH: JK: JL: TS