Arizona Boating OWI Impairment Case Arises From a ‘Good Deed’

by Aaron M. Black • January 27, 2022

UPDATE: June 8th according to the Associated Press Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes through an attorney has asked the Federal Magistrate Court in Flagstaff to terminate his sentence early. U.S. Magistrate Judge Camille Bibles granted the request, ending Rhodes' probation.

As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. In this case the punishment was for operating a watercraft while under the Influence (OUI) leading to an arrest and conviction from a good deed gone array at Lake Powell.

Boater David Rhodes was drinking with family and friends in August 2021 at the lake when one of his friends was having trouble navigating the boat into the slip. Marina employees had gone home so help was not available.

Rhodes coached his friend from shore without success. Although designated sober boat operators were assigned for the family and friends event, Rhodes decided to maneuver the boat into the slip himself. But he also had difficulty combating swirling wind. Rhodes made at least three tries and his effort damaged two other boats in the difficult attempts into the slip, according to the sheriff’s report.

Law enforcement was waiting for him on the dock.

Rhodes’ blood-alcohol concentration was tested twice, one at 0.119 and a second test showed 0.113 percent in a field sobriety test, each far above Arizona’s 0.08 percent, the Coconino County Sheriff’s incident report stated.

The irony here is that Rhodes is the recently elected Yavapai County Sheriff serving his first term as the county’s sheriff following 28 years as a deputy. Rhodes told the Daily Courier that, “even I, who knows the law well, thought that ‘just docking the boat’ would be safe, but I was wrong. I should not have taken control of the boat at all.”

Guilty plea entered

Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes Pleads Guilty to OWIRhodes entered a guilty plea and issued a public statement acknowledging his errant good deed decision, which his defense attorney said made it difficult to defend Rhodes but honesty is what Rhodes is about.

In a plea agreement for two OUI misdemeanor charges, the recently elected sheriff was fined $500, placed on supervised probation for one year and home confinement for two days. He was banned from the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area during his probation. He was also required to complete a boater safety course and substance abuse treatment, which he did prior to sentencing as part of his plea agreement.

Rhodes in taking full responsibility told the federal magistrate in Flagstaff that he should not have tried to help his friend. He also paid for the damage to the other crafts.

Rhodes admission to the charges and no attempt to use his office to avoid the situation, along with no previous criminal history, U.S. Magistrate Judge Camille Bibles said she would look favorably to ending his probation early.

The sheriff cannot be fired or further disciplined because of the result of his good deed.

Arizona’s boating law

Drinking while boatingArizona law states that anyone who is operating or having actual physical control of a water craft that is powered by an engine while impaired by liquor, drugs, or a vapor is violating Arizona Revised Statute §5-395 , which is a Class 1 Misdemeanor, the most serious in the misdemeanor ranges.

Actual physical control can be charged even if the craft is not running. All that is necessary is to be close to the boats controls and be capable of operating the craft.

Unlike DUI law, Arizona’s OUI law allows open containers to be aboard water craft.

Legal reasons for stopping a water craft

Reckless acts such as these allow an officer to detain you:
  • Speeding or moving at a speed that is unsafe for the conditions.
  • Passengers riding on the gunwales or on a covered or closed bow while moving at a speed fast enough to cause a wake.
  • Having a wanton or willful disregard for other people or property.
  • Failing to wear a life jacket or other required safety equipment.
  • Expired registration of the craft or no registration.

Arizona OUI punishments

Boats bumping at docking is far less dangerous than speeding on a lake, but the criminal offense is the same.

A misdemeanor OUI charge is punished by a maximum of six months in jail, a $5,000 fine and a criminal record. However, for a first offense, the law allows the judge some discretion including suspending the sentence, completing alcohol screening, education and treatment and probation.

A second OUI conviction within 84 months of the first increases the punishment to not less than 90 days in jail, of which 30 days must be served consecutively and probation is not an option. The fine is not less than $500 and an additional assessment of $1,250 for the state’s prison construction and operations fund.

A conviction means a criminal record for anyone to see.

AZ OUI defenses

In a snap decision to accept responsibility for an OUI, as we have seen, can be favorable to a defendant at sentencing but an aggressive defense is beneficial to achieving a more favorable outcome such as a dismissal of the charge.

Rather than confessing and jeopardizing a defense, as Rhodes lawyer noted, it is better to invoke the Fifth Amendment to remain silent when an officer begins asking questions because anything said becomes evidence against you that can be difficult to challenge. The officer knows this and must stop asking questions. These “Miranda rights” must be recited at the point of arrest so there is no good reason to answer any questions the officer poses during the stop.

These are common defenses for an OUI charge:
  • The arresting officer did not have a valid reason or suspicion to detain a water craft. Authorities must have a probable cause or at least a reasonable suspicion to detain someone.
  • An illegal search of the person or the craft results in ‘any evidence found’ cannot be used in court.
  • A breathalyzer test results can be inaccurate because the machine was not properly calibrated.
  • The field sobriety test, such as walking a straight line, can be dubious because of a physical ailment or just coming off the water ‘sea legs’ can eschew the test results.
  • If blood was drawn to determine the level of impairment, the samples might have been improperly stored making the test result inaccurate.


Choose Aaron M. Black Law for OUI defense

If your watercraft is stopped by law enforcement on one of Arizona’s lakes or rivers and you are arrested, it is crucial to obtain legal representation at the earliest possible time to protect your rights.

I have extensive experience defending OUI charges and I know that good people can make a mistake, just like Mr. Rhodes. They deserve an aggressive defense, challenging the state’s evidence and the procedures the authorities used as part of conducting a thorough independent investigation.

A defendant’s common complaint is that they did not have easy or prompt access to their attorney. That doesn’t happen at Aaron M. Black Law. You will never be handed off to an assistant.

Begin your OUI defense by calling 480-729-1683 at any time on any day, even weekends or holidays, and I will respond promptly unless I am at trial or in court. Or use my online contact form.

I defend OUI charges in federal, state, municipal, and justice courts in and adjacent to Maricopa County.

About the Author

Aaron Black Phoenix DUI LawyerAaron Black is the founder and sole attorney of the Law Office of Aaron Black. Located in Phoenix, Arizona, his DUI and criminal defense law firm provides legal services to people who have received felony or misdemeanor charges from the state.

Aaron has developed a strong interest in defending people who have been arrested and received criminal charges for driving under the influence. With his professionalism and knowledge of Arizona DUI and criminal law, he has acted as a check and balance on the police, prosecution and courts and has protected a great number of his clients from excessive and unfair sentencing.

Along with DUI defense, Aaron handles a range of other criminal defense matters, including aggravated assault, burglary, domestic violence, drug possession, drug trafficking, fraud defense, insurance fraud, sex crimes, and white-collar crime cases.

After graduating college in 2003 from the University of Arizona, Aaron decided to pursue a law degree. He followed a family long tradition and went to the University of South Dakota School of Law where he pursued his goal of becoming a criminal defense lawyer.

After passing the Arizona and South Dakota bar exams, Aaron joined the Maricopa County Office of the Public Defender where he defended hundreds of people charged with serious criminal offenses. His work as a public defender helped him sharpen his litigation skills and gave him a unique insight into the Arizona criminal justice system.

Over the course of his 15-year legal career, Aaron has spent a considerable amount of time in both Arizona justice, municipal, state and federal courts. He has argued over 50 jury trials, tried over 100 bench trials and has become one of the highest-rated criminal and DUI defense attorneys in Phoenix and the surrounding areas. He has received a 10/10 rating from the legal directory Avvo because of his legal background and successful case record. Since 2014, he has received the Super Lawyer rating for his work as a Phoenix DUI Attorney and criminal defense attorney.

You can review Aaron’s Attorney Bio page for more information about his background, education and experience as a Phoenix DUI and criminal defense attorney.
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