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Coast Guard License – DUI Suspension

Impact of a DUI on a Coast Guard Operator’s License

Whether you operate a 20 foot rigid hull inflatable or the world’s largest supertanker, as a holder of a Coast Guard-issued license and/or Merchant Mariner Document (MMD), there are many rules and regulations you must comply with in order to work in this industry. You must be mentally and physically competent. You must operate a marine vessel without negligence. You must act under the authority of and within the boundaries of your license. You must observe any applicable laws and regulations. In addition, you could be held liable for your actions, even if you are ashore or involved in actions not within the capacity of your license. Any drug or alcohol-related incidences, (e.g. DUI , fatal accidents, serious criminal convictions or other offenses you may have against you could lead to suspension or permanent loss of your Coast Guard license or MMD.

If you have a Coast Guard license or MMD, you are already familiar with the steps to apply for, upgrade and renew a license. However, you may not be aware of the Suspension and Revocation (S&R) procedures. S&R is a remedial process intended to promote safety on U.S. waters and prevent any danger to life, property and the marine environment. Under Title 46, Code of Federal Regulation Part 5, if you are acting under the authority of your license and have shown incompetence, misconduct, negligence, or a violation of law or regulation, a personnel investigation will be initiated by the Coast Guard and your license and/or MMD may be in jeopardy. Additionally, if you fail a drug test, or have violated a serious drug law within the past ten years, an investigation will be performed. An Investigating Officer (IO) will collect evidence and use any means necessary to conduct the investigation, including interviews and subpoenas. The IO may then issue a complaint against you if there is considerable proof of an offense. It is the IO’s decision to simply present you with a warning letter or proceed with formal S&R hearings. Title 46, Code of Federal Regulations Part 5 and Title 33, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 20 allow you to surrender your license instead of a attending a hearing.

Under the Administrative Procedures Act (5 USC 551 et seq.), S&R hearings are held in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), where you may chose to have an attorney represent you. This type of hearing consists of opening/closing statements, direct/cross-examinations and presentation of evidence from both sides, in addition to questioning by the ALJ. Because the administrative rules of an S&R proceeding are more lenient than those of a criminal proceeding, a jail sentence or criminal fine can be avoided. The ALJ will generally give both parties more freedom with the use and interpretation of administrative procedures and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As a result, the IO must prove his case by “preponderance of evidence” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt”. If the IO is unable to prove his case, the complaint will be dismissed. If the IO successfully proves his case, he may suggest that the ALJ issue you a warning, suspend your license (with or without probation) or revoke your license. You will have an opportunity to present additional evidence to further prove your case, prior to the final Decision and Order. If this is a drug-related or extremely serious offense and the outcome of the case is in favor of the IO, the ALJ is required to revoke your license. If you are ordered to surrender your license to the Coast Guard, it must be done at the time of the hearing. You, or your attorney, may appeal an adverse decision against you.

The above merely represents an outline of the S&R procedures. As a licensed mariner, you should be fully aware of the laws and regulations that affect you. The Investigation Department of your local USCG Marine Safety Office can provide you with more information on the S&R process and hearings.

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