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Getting a DUI on federal land

You can be charged with a federal DUI for any alleged DUI offense occurring on federal lands, which include—but aren’t limited to—military bases, national forests, national parks, parking lots of federal buildings, and land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. In federal DUI cases, there are no juries: a federal magistrate runs the trial and gives the verdict.

Land managed by the National Park Service, which includes any park designated as a National Park, is subject to federal laws governing DUIs. Other federal land is governed by state laws, but punishment is given at the federal level.

National park DUIs

The National Park Service’s DUI laws come from the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR). Under the CFR, a DUI is a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, up to six months in federal prison, and up to five years on federal probation.

Driving on federal land is considered to be an indication of your consent to testing to confirm your blood-alcohol content, such as a blood, breath, or urine test. Just refusing a chemical test is a federal misdemeanor with punishment of up to one year in prison, additional fines, and loss of driving privileges on federal land for a year.

Additionally, sentencing extensions and increased fines apply to a federal DUI if someone was injured or killed. Having a minor in the car for a federal DUI can also increase your sentence up to 1 year, while “serious bodily injury” of a minor increases it by up to 5 years, and the death of a minor increases it by up to 10 years. These offenses will also make a federal DUI a felony.

Other federal DUIs

On any other federal land, the federal Assimilative Crimes Act requires that the DUI be prosecuted according to the laws of the state, which vary considerably as to fines, jail time, and other penalties.

However, you can still be held accountable for additional penalties and fines at the federal level. Since it is a federal crime, any incarceration time is served in federal prison rather than a local jail.

Refusal to take a chemical test can also subject you to additional penalties; for example, this can result in a one-year loss of driving privileges. Check your state laws for specifics.

Conviction standards

On land controlled by the National Park Service, you can be convicted of a federal DUI if you are found to have driven on federal land with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) over the legal limit in your jurisdiction, or if you were under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs such that you were incapable of driving a vehicle safely.

This latter condition is a higher standard than most state laws have. You can be convicted of a federal DUI even if your chemical test indicated a blood-alcohol content below 0.08 (the legal limit in all states), if other evidence shows that you were too impaired to drive safely.

Furthermore, because you do not actually have to be driving, just in “actual physical control” of the vehicle, sleeping off your drunkenness alone in the backseat of your car can be grounds for a DUI.

For other federal DUIs, conviction requires a BAC over 0.08.

Choosing a lawyer

It is critical that you choose a lawyer who has experience with federal DUI cases. Such a lawyer has to have admission rights into federal courts, because even a case prosecuted under state laws is still handled in the federal district court.

If you are being charged with a DUI for driving on federal land not controlled by the National Park Service, your lawyer also needs to be familiar with the applicable state DUI law.

Criminal record

A federal DUI stays on your criminal record forever, and is not expunged after several years as most state-level DUI cases are. A federal DUI can adversely affect your ability to get hired for certain jobs involving driving, federal security clearances, or the practice of law or other work in the legal profession.

On the other hand, federal DUIs do not always lead to the suspension of your driver’s license, because the federal court is limited to using the state laws for punishment, including fines and jail time. License suspension is considered to be an administrative or civil issue, not a punishment. However, courts have disagreed on how civil issues are handled in federal DUI cases.

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