Â§ 31.124 of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code states, â€œan enforcement officer may stop and board a vessel . . . and may inspect the boatâ€ to determine whether it is in compliance with the various provisions of the Code.
What this means for the average lake-goer is that an officer has the power to stop his or her boat without probable cause or a reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime has been or is about to be committed. Basically, a law enforcement officer may board any boat, for absolutely any reason and, once aboard, may legally come into contact with evidence of a possible crime, like boating while intoxicated.
The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas recently discussed whether or not this statute violates the 4th Amendmentâ€™s ban on illegal searches. The court held in Schenekl v. State that it does not.
It may be difficult to understand how a random stop, unsupported by probable cause, could be constitutional. The court, in making this determination, applied a two-prong test, weighing the Stateâ€™s interest in the search against the individualâ€™s right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by law enforcement.
The court held that the State has a strong interest in protecting its citizens and promoting water safety through random safety checks. The court decided that, in contrast, the level of intrusion to the individual during a random boat stop is minimal.
Thus, while it may seem counter-intuitive, the court held random safety checks of boats to be constitutional and not a violation of the 4th Amendment. This information is certainly important to keep in mind while spending time at the lake this spring and summer.
This is important to note, because a lot of BWIs begin with a randam safety check. So far, these randam safety checks are not allowed in Texas for automobiles. I am afraid that is about to change with all the Sobriety Checkpoint legislation MADD is trying to push through our legislature.