Most people are aware that driving while intoxicated will result in state criminal DWI charges. But what many people might not realize is that the Federal Government can also prosecute a person accused of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
The difference between a state DUI and a federal DUI is where the offense happened. State DUI charges are levied when a person was driving while intoxicated on state roads. And because many highways belong to the state, most often, an offense falls under state jurisdiction.
In contrast, a person can be hit with federal DUI charges if they were accused of driving under the influence on federal property.
Federal property includes, but is not limited to:
- National monuments
- National parks
- National forests
- Post Offices
- Military bases
WHAT IS THE FEDERAL DUI LAW?
The federal law that applies to an intoxicated while driving offense depends on where the incident occurred. If the alleged crime happened at a national park or forest, the individual may be prosecuted under the Code of Federal Regulations.
Under 36 CRF § 4.23, a person commits a federal DUI when they operate a vehicle while:
- Under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and are unable to drive their car safely, or
- They have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more
If the offense occurred on federal property other than a national forest or park, the Assimilative Crimes Act applies. Essentially, 18 U.S.C. § 13 provides that when the federal government does not have a law concerning illegal conduct, the law of the state where the offense occurred applies.
The federal government does not have a statute specifically concerning driving under the influence offenses. Therefore, if someone is in Texas and commits a DUI on federal land, Texas’s DWI law will apply. Under section 49.04 of the Texas Penal Code, a person commits an offense when driving while intoxicated (meaning their normal faculties are altered to the point that they cannot safely operate their vehicle) or when they have an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher. Although Texas’s DWI law applies to federal driving under the influence violations, the matter will still be heard in federal court.
If the DUI offense occurred on a military base and the alleged offender is a member of the Armed Forces, they will be subject to the laws of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR A FEDERAL DUI?
The punishments for a federal DUI conviction are tied to the law under which the crime was prosecuted.
For violations of 36 CRF § 4.23, the penalties include:
- Up to 6 months of imprisonment and/or
- A fine
The Assimilative Crimes Act provides that a person who commits an offense on federal property but no federal law exists concerning the crime will be subject to “like punishment.” In other words, a conviction for a federal DUI can result in the same penalties as a conviction for a Texas DWI. A first-time DWI is a Class B misdemeanor, penalized by 72 hours to 180 days in jail and/or up to $2,000 in fines.
A military member convicted of a DUI may also face confinement and/or fines, and they can be subject to several other sanctions as enumerated in the UCMJ.
IS THERE A FEDERAL IMPLIED CONSENT LAW?
Although the federal government does not have a specific DUI law, it does have a couple of different statutes concerning implied consent. According to 36 CFR § 4.23(c), a person lawfully arrested for driving under the influence on federal property has consented to submit to a breath, saliva, or urine test to determine alcohol or drug content. Refusal is admissible as evidence in court.
Similarly, 18 U.S.C. § 3118 states that a person consents to a blood, breath, or urine test if an officer had reasonable grounds to believe that they were operating a vehicle while under the influence. Refusal is not only admissible as evidence but can also result in a prohibition from driving on federal land for 1 year.