DWI on federal property is a crime that results in severe consequences and penalties following a conviction. From repercussions to your finances, career, future, and potential employment opportunities to threats to freedom, these penalties should not be taken lightly regardless of whether it is a first-time offense or not. At the Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer, we know how the allegation can adversely affect you. That is why we are dedicated to offering you a well-crafted and thorough legal defense based on evidence, facts, and research we have gathered and analyzed as part of your case investigation.
What is Driving While Intoxicated?
An individual commits a DWI crime when they are intoxicated while driving their car in a public place. As far as DWI laws are concerned, intoxicated does not mean having the regular use of physical or mental faculties because of having a blood alcohol concentration greater than .08 percent or consumption of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the substances.
Therefore, if the BAC isn't at the legal limit, you could be intoxicated if the physical or mental capabilities are impaired because of drugs and alcohol. The arresting police officer could determine impairment through a field sobriety test or a test that determines blood alcohol concentration in a breath sample. The officer might also look for behavior that indicates impairment like:
- Lack of balance and coordination
- Impaired speech
- Blurred vision
What is Federal Driving While Intoxicated?
Most DWI offenses take place within the area or power or jurisdiction or local courts. Nevertheless, the crime becomes a federal offense if it happens on federal property, such as:
- National parks
- Some airports
- Military bases
- Government compounds
- Post offices
- A parking lot on federal land
- Federal courthouse
- National monument
- Any property operated by a federal agency or owned by the federal government.
Federal Laws About DWI
Like many states, federal law prohibits driving your car with a greater than 0.08 percent blood alcohol concentration. Moreover, the zero-tolerance law bans a person below 21 years from having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.01 percent or more.
Federal law addresses drunk driving in several locations, including:
The National Park Service DWI laws are under the Code of Federal Regulations. Per the CFR, drunk driving is charged as a Class B misdemeanor. It carries the following penalties:
- A maximum fine of five thousand dollars
- A five-year federal probation
- A maximum of a six-month federal prison sentence
You might face sentencing enhancement if the DWI killed or injured a person. Having a child in the motor vehicle as your passenger enhances the sentence to a year while causing the minor's severe bodily injury and death increases your penalty by five and ten years, respectively.
Uniform Code of Military Justice
Under this section, it is illegal to operate a water vessel, aircraft, or vehicle while drunk.
Consequences for a military member to break the section or those found guilty while on leave could be different and might include:
- Revocation of pass privilege
- Letter of reprimand
- Corrective training
- Referral to a substance abuse treatment program
- Extra duty requirements
- Forfeiture of pay
- Corrective training
- Dismissal from the military
- Bar to reenlistment
- Reduction in rank or grade
Federal Assimilative Crimes Act
Essentially, the act claims that when you commit a state offense on federal property, and there isn't a federal law addressing the crime, the offense will be charged under state law. In other words, this law is a complementary element for federal regulations.
On federal property that the National Park Service doesn't manage, the federal DWI will be charged under the Texas DWI laws. A first drunk driving offense is a Class B misdemeanor.
You will face additional federal consequences, and a sentence will be served in federal prison.
On federal land managed by the National Park Service, a person could be sentenced for DWI if found guilty of driving on federal property with a BAC above 0.08 percent in the jurisdiction or were drunk and so impaired to driving your motor vehicle safety.
The latter condition is a higher standard compared to the state laws. You could be found guilty of federal DWI even when the chemical test shows that your blood alcohol concentration is below 0.08 percent provided other proof indicates that you are too drunk to operate the motor vehicle safely.
Moreover, since you don't have to be operating a car, just in "physical control" of your car, sleeping off the drunkenness in your car backseat could result in a DWI charge.
When a police officer pulls you over on DWI suspicion in Fort Worth, you are entitled to refuse to submit a chemical test. In 2014, a state court held that Texas implied consent law broke the motorist's constitutional rights. Consequently, you can now refuse the police's request to offer a blood or breath sample. However, you can face severe consequences such as revoking the driver's license if you're subsequently sentenced for drunk driving.
Operating your car on federal land means you have consented to a chemical test to check your BAC, like breath, urine, or blood test. Refusing to submit a chemical test is a federal misdemeanor, punishable by:
- Loss of driving privileges in federal land for a maximum of one year
- A year in prison
Failing to adhere to the police's request for the urine, breathe, or blood sample could be used as evidence of guilt in the federal DWI proceeding.
There Isn't Jury Option in Federal Drunk Driving Charges
When charged with drunk driving in Fort Worth, the defendant is entitled to defend themself before a jury of their peers. The process is different if charged with federal DWI charges. Instead of presenting the case to the jury, a federal judge hears and determines the matter. The judge will put into account evidence and arguments from each side and decide if there is proof that they violated the DWI on federal property law.
It is a significant drawback. Usually, a jury trial is preferable to a bench trial. The jury of your peers will be more open to convincing emotional arguments and open to considering the lack of validity of the evidence.
Fighting DWI on Federal Property Charges
The above-discussed penalties of a drunk driving conviction are good reasons you should fight the criminal charge. A conviction could also affect your finances, career, and make you lose out on time with your loved ones or business deals. Fighting the conviction means you're fighting to maintain your life as you know it.
One of the questions alleged defendants ask is how they can fight the charge when the chemical test shows they were intoxicated. Well, there are two key things to remember:
A drunk driving charge is defensible even when there is proof showing that you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
You're innocent until proven guilty, and your experienced defense attorney will be aggressive to establish your innocence or weaken the case against you.
Your attorney should closely review the case to find a legal defense that suits your case. Common valid defenses include:
Field Sobriety Tests Defense
A field sobriety test is not always an accurate method of determining when a driver is driving while intoxicated. There are (3) three tests police use, namely:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
- Walk and Turn Test
- One Leg Stand Test
All these tests depend on the police's interpretation of the test's results, which could be inaccurate. Additionally, the tests are vulnerable to incorrect positives when you have a mental or physical condition that could interfere with your test, such as:
- Advanced age
- Natural nystagmus of your eye
- Challenge with balancing
- An injury to feet or legs
Your defense attorney should be able to challenge the test's results in numerous ways.
Blood Draw Defense
Often a blood sample is taken from a DWI suspect after the arrest. The sample is taken to the police station for processing and is considered more accurate than a urine or breath test. Nevertheless, there are precise procedures that police officers should follow when drawing and testing the blood. Otherwise, the evidence acquired from the test will be inadmissible in court.
Before drawing your blood, the police should have a warrant or your consent. Your blood is dependent on a high level of privacy interest per the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Most challenges involve how blood samples were taken or the samples' validity. Common reasons for blood draw challenges include:
- A threat made by the police during the process
- Use of a defective warrant to obtain the sample
- The sample wasn't properly stored or labeled.
- A false promise of leniency by a police officer made to get your blood sample.
- Inappropriate calibration of gadgets used.
- Law enforcers destroyed the blood sample and failed to preserve the sample for retesting.
If one of these situations exists, your attorney could challenge the blood draw's results and defend you against the DWI on federal property charges.
Breath Test Defense
A breath test occurs through the use of a breathalyzer. It measures the quantity of alcohol in the bloodstream through a breath sample blown into the breathalyzer. If the BAC measured is at least 0.08 percent, you could be detained and prosecuted with DWI on federal property.
Breath tests are regarded as less accurate compared to blood samples. However, that does not mean a breath test cannot be challenged.
The chemical test could detect the presence of alcohol when a person hasn't been drinking, for instance, when they:
- Recently burped
- Have diabetes
- Recently used mouthwash
- Have taken medication
Additionally, you could challenge the results' accuracy because of your body situation or other test problems. For instance, an individual with high body temperature because of fever will have high alcohol diffusion into their lungs.
Another health condition that could affect your breath test result is suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Breath Test Calibration
Breath tests should be correctly calibrated and checked regularly for accuracy. A person with proper licensing qualifications should conduct the chemical test. The United States attorneys should give these details to the criminal defense. The test's improper calibration could make the test result inadmissible.
If the stringent guidelines put in place are not complied with, the results are also not admissible. The chemical test should be performed after waiting for fifteen minutes.
How State Criminal Process is Different from Federal Criminal Process
Discussed below are critical differences between the federal and state criminal processes:
- Titles of persons involved—While district attorneys or prosecutors file state criminal cases, United States attorneys file federal cases. State court trial judges have numerous titles. On the other hand, federal judges are known as district court judges.
- Federal magistrate judges hear initial matters like a pretrial motion in a federal case but don't decide cases.
- The federal and state government have laws that make certain conduct unlawful. The federal government may punish a given crime more harshly than the state or vice versa. However, you could be charged and found guilty under both systems.
Federal Criminal Process
The following is a summary of how DWI on federal property proceeds through the criminal justice system. The judge or court could modify specific steps.
Step One: Investigation
Usually, the U.S Constitution's Fourth Amendment requires that the police have probable cause before searching your person or motor vehicle. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the initial step might be your arrest. If the police have probable cause to arrest you, they will make the arrest.
Step Two: Charging
After the prosecutor analyzes the police's details and the information collected from talking with you or the parties involved, the prosecutor decides whether to present your case to the grand jury. If indicated, it means the prosecutor believes that you committed the DWI on federal property crime. The indictment outlines the criminal charges against you.
You should hire a defense attorney after being charged. If you cannot afford one, a public defender can represent you. Your defense attorney should help you understand your case facts and the law and represent you the same way the prosecutor represents the government.
Your trial location is known as the venue, and federal criminal cases are tried in a United States District Court. Most states have at least one district court. Therefore, the venue will depend mainly on where you reside in Texas.
Step Three: Arraignment
Either the day or the day after your arrest, you will be brought before a magistrate judge for your arraignment. During the arraignment,
- You will learn more about the charges against you and your rights,
- Arrangements are made for you to have a defense lawyer, and
- The judge determines whether to hold you in prison or release you until your trial.
The law will often permit you to be released from detention before your trial if you satisfy requirements for bail. Before granting bail, the judge will consider factors, such as:
- Whether you have community ties
- Whether you are a potential threat to the community
- Your previous criminal record
- How long you have lived in the area
If you cannot post bail, the judge will order you to be remanded into the United States Marshals' custody awaiting trial.
Step Four: Discovery
Before the prosecutor starts a trial, they should be familiar with the case facts, speak with witnesses, analyze evidence, identify challenges that could arise during your trial, and then develop a trial strategy. Meanwhile, your defense attorney is preparing in the same way.
Both the prosecutor and the defense can call witnesses to provide their testimony. A witness should take an oath to affirm or agree to tell the truth.
Generally, there are three categories of witnesses:
- An expert witness is an expert in a specific area, and they testify based on the specialty area.
- A lay witness watched certain events and described what they saw.
- A character witness does not witness the occurrence of the crime, but they know you. Usually, they include the clergy, family, friends, and neighbors.
The prosecutor should provide you with copies of evidence or material that they intend to use at the trial. The process is known as discovery.
Additionally, the prosecutors should give the defense exculpatory evidence (evidence that could weaken their case).
Step Five: Plea Bargaining
When the prosecutor has a strong case, they might offer you a plea deal to reduce your penalties or avoid trial.
You can only plead guilty if you violated the DWI on federal property law and admits committing in court. Sometimes the prosecutor will agree as part of a plea bargain negotiation agreement not to recommend enhanced penalties. However, it is within the judge's discretion to determine the consequences.
Step Six: Preliminary Hearing
After you have entered a plea of not guilty, a preliminary hearing is scheduled. The prosecutor should show there is adequate evidence against you.
The hearing should be held within fourteen days of the initial appearance if you are still in police custody. If you were released, it should be scheduled within twenty-one days of your arraignment.
The prosecutor will present evidence and call witnesses, and your lawyer can cross-examine the witnesses. The defense can't object to the use of specific evidence.
If the judge believes you committed the offense, your trial will be scheduled. And if they think you did not commit the DWI on federal property crime, they'll dismiss the criminal charges.
Step Seven: Pre-trial Motion
A motion is an application made to the court by the defense or prosecutor, requesting the court to decide on a particular issue before trial. Only the judge determines the motion's outcome.
Some of the most common pretrial motions are:
- Motion to change of venue
- Motion to suppress
- Motion to dismiss
Step Eight: Trial
A trial is a process where the case facts are presented to the jury and determine if you are guilty. The prosecutor uses evidence and witnesses to prove that you violated the law. Your lawyer also tells your side of the story using evidence and witnesses.
The judge determines what proof should be used. They are like a referee in a game and ensure the process is played fairly.
Step Nine: Sentencing
The judge rules the punishment for the crime. The judge will consider mitigating or aggravating factors, including:
- Your previous criminal record
- Whether your expressed regret for the conduct
- The nature of the offense
Step Ten: Appeal
You can file an appeal to the Circuit Court if you think your penalties are too brutal or were wrongly convicted. An appeal is a chance for you to raise mistakes that could have happened at trial. One of the grounds of appeal is that the judge was wrong when they suppressed specific evidence.
Appeals are complicated and require legal assistance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Discussed below are some of the most common questions answered by seasoned DWI defense attorneys in Fort Worth:
Can a DWI on Federal Property Charge be Expunged?
An expungement clears off your criminal record and might not appear in background checks unless you work with the state or federal government.
However, a DWI on federal property conviction will remain on the criminal record for life and isn't expunged after years like many state-level drunk driving cases are. The criminal record could adversely affect the ability to secure employment involving federal security clearance, driving, or practicing law. As a result, you should engage a seasoned defense attorney who will work to avoid your conviction.
The alternative to expungement is the request for executive clemency or a presidential pardon. The option is only available for persons who have completed their sentences, taken accountability for their conduct, and are now productive members of society. While the pardon doesn't offer to seal the DWI on the federal property criminal record, it could restore some rights lost due to the federal conviction.
Can Your DWI on Federal Property Trigger Driver's License Suspension?
Federal DWI doesn't always result in the suspension of a driver's license. It is because federal courts are restricted to using any state law for penalties. Driver's license suspension is a civil or administrative issue rather than punishment.
Find Fort Worth Criminal Lawyer Near Me
Just like most people, being charged with DWI on federal property may be the first time you are in trouble with the law, and it can be a confusing experience. Well, the charges are nothing to take lightly. It is an offense that comes with severe life-changing penalties. At times as challenging as these, legal representation makes the difference in navigating the judicial system. Since time is essential to start the defense, call the Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer now at 817-470-2128.