This post concerns what you should know about federal DUI charges. If you have been charged with drunk driving or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs on federal land, you may face a federal DUI charge.

When you’re charged with a federal DUI, you are charged with a federal crime. This means you’ll go to federal court and face federal prosecutors. If this description sounds intimidating, that’s because it is. This is a very serious offense. You must find an attorney with experience in defending federal DUI charges.

Most driving under the influence offenses throughout the United States are prosecuted under the laws of the state in which the offender breaks the law. That’s because state courts have jurisdiction over a violation of state law, such as driving under the influence (DUI/DWI).

The same is true for a federal crime. When you commit an act that’s illegal under the laws of the United States, you’re subject to the jurisdiction of the federal court system.

Driving under the Influence Laws and Federal Property

A federal DUI charge is dependent upon the location of the incident. If you’re arrested in a national park, you’re charged pursuant to the Code of Federal Regulations.

If the incident occurs on another type of federal property, you will be charged under the state’s laws through the U.S. Assimilative Crimes Act.

When an individual is arrested on federal property, he or she is tried in a federal courtroom. If an individual is drunk or in an impaired state while on federal property, he or she may be apprehended by law enforcement and charged with a Federal DUI.

The U.S. government owns millions of acres of lands across the country. Imagine that you and your military unit go to a club. You get in the car and enjoy a drive through Sam Houston National Forest when a law enforcement officer pulls you over.


Implied consent

At that point, an officer asks you to submit to field sobriety testing. Note that you’re subject to implied consent laws. Under the Code of Federal Regulations, if you refuse to submit to chemical tests, you face fines plus a maximum six-month federal prison sentence as well as loss of driving privileges on U.S. federal lands for 12 months from the date of arrest.

Federal DUI and Uniform Code of Military Justice

You’re arrested. Shortly thereafter, you’re charged with a federal DUI because you were suspected of drunk driving in a U.S. national park.

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, you and your friends may face other consequences, in addition to criminal penalties, for a DUI charge as members of the military.

What constitutes a federal property?

Federal properties include military bases, airports, courthouses/surrounding properties, national monuments, historic grounds, government compound, national forests, national parks, and any property, lot, building, or parking area owned by the United States government or managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

If you have been detained on a charge of driving under the influence on a federal property, it is crucial to understand that you may face a Federal DUI charge—not a state DUI. This DUI offense is much more serious. The defendant faces enhanced penalties.

Federal DUI Laws and Penalties

According to the National Park Service’s laws, a federal DUI is a Class B misdemeanor. Depending on the case circumstances, the charge may be enhanced if:


  1. The defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is above the legal limit of 0.08 percent
  2. The defendant is accused of reckless driving
  3. He or she has a passenger less than 14 years old in the vehicle
  4. Someone was injured or killed
  5. He or she has prior DUI convictions

Zero tolerance for underage drinking on federal lands

The legal drinking age on federal lands is 21 years old. If the driver is less than 21 years old, he or she may be arrested and face a federal misdemeanor charge with a BAC of just 0.001 percent.

A minor in the car at the time of arrest may increase the offender’s prison sentence up to one year. Causing serious bodily injury to a minor may increase the sentence by five years, but causing death to a minor may add up to 10 years. Any of these offenses make the federal DUI a felony charge.

Federal DUIs, Employment, and Your Permanent Criminal Record

A Class B misdemeanor federal DUI conviction involves a maximum $5,000 fine, six-month federal prison term, five years’ probation, or a combination of these punishments.

A federal DUI may negatively affect your eligibility for certain jobs that involve driving, the practice of law, or receiving federal security clearances.

Unlike most state-level DUIs, a federal DUI remains on your permanent criminal record. It’s not eligible for expungement.

Hire a Defense Attorney Familiar with Federal DUI Laws

If you’re facing a federal DUI charge, you need a lawyer with experience in these cases. Such an attorney has admission rights to the federal courts.

If you’re charged with a DUI on federal land that isn’t controlled by the National Park Service, you need an attorney who’s knowledgeable about all applicable DUI state laws.

Don’t face a serious DUI charge without the assistance of a skilled DUI attorney. Your attorney will advise you of your legal rights and discuss strategies for reducing the potential consequences. Depending on the particulars of your case, it may be possible to have the charges dismissed.

About the Author

Brett A. Podolsky Federal DUI chargesBrett A. Podolsky is a Criminal Legal Specialist certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is the former Assistant Criminal District Attorney for the State of Texas. As a criminal defense attorney in Houston, Texas, Mr. Podolsky dedicates his entire practice to litigation. He accepts a wide variety of cases, including drug charges, federal crimes, white-collar crimes, and sex crimes.