What Makes a DUI Federal? + Charges, Laws & Penalities

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Although driving under impairment (DUI) is considered a crime in all 50 states, the offense rises to the level of a federal crime in some situations. The legal and social consequences of a federal DUI conviction can be severe. Despite the seriousness of the charge, it is possible for a federal criminal defense attorney to defend against a federal DUI and seek the best possible outcome in each case.

What is a DUI?

Every state classifies driving under the influence a bit differently. However, there are some similarities. For example, if you exhibit any of the following while operating a motor vehicle, you may be charged with a DUI:

  • Blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or higher
  • Inability to safely control a motor vehicle
  • Noticeable impairment due to illegal or prescription drugs

When an officer pulls you over, he or she may look for specific behavior that indicates you are impaired. Lethargy, sedation, inability to balance, blurred vision, and impaired speech are all indicators of intoxication.

What is a Federal DUI?

Most DUI charges occur within the jurisdiction, or area of power, of local courts. However, a DUI may become a federal issue if it occurs on federal property.

A DUI may be a federal offense if it occurs in or near any of the following:

  • National parks
  • Military bases
  • Some airports
  • Post offices
  • Government compounds
  • Federal courthouses
  • Parking lots on federal land
  • National monuments
  • Any property owned by the federal government or operated by a federal agency

Federal Laws Regarding DUIs

Like the states, federal laws prohibit operation of any motor vehicle with a BAC of .08 percent or higher. Additionally, there is a “zero tolerance” law prohibiting anyone under the age of 21 from having a BAC of .001 percent or higher.

Federal laws address DUIs in multiple locations, including the following:

  • National Park Service laws (36 C.F.R. §4.23) – Driving while impaired by alcohol or other substances on land administered by the National Park Service is a Class B misdemeanor.
  • Uniform Code of Military Justice (Section 911: Art. 111) – The military prohibits intoxicated operation of any vehicle, aircraft, or water vessel.
  • Assimilative Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. §13) – Even if there is no federal law that addresses a DUI on specific federal property, state laws may be applicable. The federal government may use state laws to charge an individual with a crime that occurs on federal land, even when the act or omission has not been made punishable by Congress.
  • Implied Consent (18 U.S.C. §3118) – If you are legally arrested for a DUI on federal property, you must submit to a chemical test to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC). If you refuse, you may be subject to an additional misdemeanor charge and denial of privileges to drive on federal land for up to one year.

Consequences of a Federal DUI

The penalties for DUI in the various states can be diverse. However, consequences of a federal DUI are the same regardless of where the offense is committed. Federal penalties may include the following:

  • Incarceration in a federal prison for up to six months
  • Fines of up to $5,000
  • Probation for up to five years

Consequences of a federal DUI may be increased if the intoxicated driver’s BAC was significantly over the limit, a passenger was under the age of 14, or the driver has several prior DUI convictions.

Penalties for members of the military to violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or who are convicted of a DUI while off duty, may be somewhat different and may include the following:

  • Letter of reprimand
  • Revocation of pass privileges
  • Extra duty requirements
  • Referral to a substance abuse treatment program
  • Corrective training
  • Reduction in grade or rank
  • Forfeiture of pay
  • Bar to reenlistment
  • Dismissal from the military
  • Court martial

Finding a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney

The process of being arrested, charged with a crime, and tried in a federal court can be intimidating. Depending on the circumstances, you may be facing significant penalties and social consequences. A knowledgeable federal DUI attorney can help you defend against an intoxication charge on federal property.

You must find a federal criminal defense attorney to represent you in a federal court. Not every attorney is permitted to practice law in federal courts, and even fewer attorneys are familiar with the federal criminal justice system. It is important to find a knowledgeable and experienced attorney who is familiar with federal criminal charges.

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