Aircraft pilots and boat Captains have a huge responsibility – they are accountable for the safety of large masses of human lives on a daily basis. One error in judgment can cause the loss of an untold number of lives. As such, the United States government and the licensing agencies responsible for overseeing these professions have very rigorous requirements for reporting alcohol related arrests and/or convictions.
These reporting requirements are mandatory in certain situations whether the arrest and/or conviction were job related or not. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not care whether a DUI conviction occurred during the middle of a pilot’s 30-day vacation. It must still be reported. Moreover, the FAA does not care if the pilot was even aware of the reporting requirement. The failure to report may cause a more severe punishment than would have been received if reported. At a minimum, the FAA will begin a formal investigation.
The other reporting requirement occurs when renewing your annual Medical Certificate. Block 18v requires disclosure of “(1) any arrest(s) and/or conviction(s) involving driving while intoxicated by, while impaired by, or while under the influence of alcohol or a drug; or, (2) a history of any conviction(s) or administrative action(s) involving an offense(s) which resulted in the denial, suspension, cancellation, or revocation of driving privileges or which resulted in attendance at an education or rehabilitation program.”
If the pilot attends counseling, this counseling may have to be disclosed in block 19 of the application “Visits to Health Professional within Last Three Years”. These visits include visits to “clinical social workers or substance abuse specialist for treatment, examination, or medical/mental evaluation.” (FAA Form 8500-8)
Other than these disclosures on the Medical Certificate, the reporting requirement to FAA Security is triggered when an airman receives a conviction for DUI or possession of any illegal narcotic drug, depressants, stimulants, or marijuana. (14 CFR 61.15) Also, the reporting requirement is triggered by any suspension of an airman’s driver’s license that is related to the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated, impaired by, or under the influence of alcohol or a drug.
The reporting must be made in writing by way of a “Notification Letter” to the FAA within 60 days of the conviction or motor vehicle action. It must contain certain information about the offense, so it is vital to retain the services of an experienced DUI attorney to guide you through this process.
Failure to comply with the reporting requirements is grounds for denial of any application for certificate, rating, or authorization issued for a date of one year from the date of the conviction or motor vehicle action or suspension or revocation of any certificate, rating, or authorization issued.
Merchant Mariners are licensed and governed by the United States Coast Guard. There are no regulatory requirements that a mariner report a DUI conviction immediately to the Coast Guard. However, there are two ways for the Coast Guard to discover a DUI conviction or refusal to submit to a chemical test. First, it must be disclosed on an application for a new credential or renewal of a credential. The Regional Exam Center will also check each applicant with the National Driver Register, which will reveal any refusals or convictions.
If the DUI conviction or refusal is discovered through the application procedure, the Regional Exam Center will decide if a further assessment period is needed to monitor the applicant’s character and suitability to hold the credential for which he is applying. The Regional Exam Center will look at several factors including the age and number of the convictions, the severity of the crimes, any rehabilitation completed by the applicant, evidence of sobriety in the form of reference letters, and the status of the applicant’s driver’s license.
The Regional Exam Center supervisor will make a determination whether to assign a further assessment period, approve the application, or deny the application. This decision may be appealed but the appeal must be valid and supported by evidence.
The second way for the Coast Guard to discover a mariner’s refusal to take a chemical test or DUI conviction is a report to the Coast Guard through third-party sources. The Coast Guard does not proactively look for convictions, but they are obligated to investigate any reports of convictions involving a credentialed mariner. It does not matter whether the report is made anonymously.
If the investigation confirms the mariner refused to take a chemical test or had a DUI conviction, the Coast Guard investigators have several options. The investigator can look at the age and number of the convictions, post-rehabilitative measures taken, and the severity and circumstances of the conviction or refusal and make a decision not to take any action. The investigator can issue a Letter of Warning or more severely, file a complaint against the mariner to pursue action against the mariner’s credentials.
The investigators will generally discuss the circumstances of the conviction or refusal and any rehabilitative measures completed before filing a complaint. Once a complaint is filed, the mariner and his counsel will have an opportunity to appear and be heard before the Administrative Law Judge. Before the administrative hearing, the mariner’s counsel and the Coast Guard’s counsel have the opportunity to resolve the case through a settlement agreement. The Administrative Law Judge must approve any settlement agreement.
Although the settlement agreements are based on the complexities and merits of each individual case, the settlement agreement will usually require the mariner to be screened by a medical professional and ordered to complete some type of rehabilitation. The mariner’s credentials may or may not be suspended for a timeframe to allow completion of rehabilitation and to ensure that the incident was an isolated occurrence.
One point of caution, federal law considers intentionally making a fake or fraudulent statement or representations in any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States a federal crime punishable by not more than five years in a federal penitentiary and/or not more than $250,000 fine for an individual or not more than $500,000 fine for an organization.
A DUI conviction for a commercial or military pilot or Merchant Mariner can mean the end of his career. This is an extremely harsh outcome in a legal system where equity should play a part in determining an appropriate punishment for someone. As such, it is reasonable, and should be expected, to approach the District Attorney to discuss other possible outcomes in situations where a onetime mistake can have life-long repercussions.