Federal DUI Explained

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DUI attorney’s explanation on Virginia and D.C. Federal DUI

Why is my DUI case in Federal Court?

A federal DUI is any DUI/DWI that occurs on Federal land (GW Parkway in Virginia, military bases) will be charged in federal court either in the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria (EDVA) or U.S. District Court. 36 C.F.R. §§ 4.1, 4.23.

What is Federal DUI law?

Similar to Virginia’s DUI law, the federal DUI law prohibits a person from being in “physical control” of a vehicle while (1) under the influence of drugs or alcohol “to a degree that renders the operator incapable of safe operation;” or (2) having a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or more—or a lower concentration if the applicable state law is more restrictive.

So, while having at least a .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) automatically constitutes driving under the influence regardless of other factors, you could have a lower BAC and still be convicted of a DUI if the evidence shows you were was so impaired you could not drive safely.  The same is true under Virginia law.

Under both state and federal law, you do not actually have to be driving a vehicle to get a DUI.  You may be considered in “physical control” of a vehicle even if you are asleep in the backseat.

Why am I also charged with a refusal charge?

In Virginia state court, refusal is a separate crime punishable by jail time. But in federal court, refusing to submit to a breath or urine test can lead to a ban on driving on federal property for one year. The refusal can also be used against you in prosecution for your DUI charge. While you certainly don’t have to submit to a roadside breath test, refusing to do so at the station can have the penalties described above.

What are the penalties for a DUI in federal court?

A federal DUI law 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.

If you are charged with a federal DUI for violating state law, you will not necessarily be subject to the same penalties you would be in state court (Va. Code § 18.2-270).  For instance, Virginia law imposes mandatory minimum sentences under certain circumstances, such as an elevated BAC or multiple convictions.  That said, Federal Judges and Magistrates are aware of the penalties for DUI in Virginia, and keep that in mind when sentencing. In federal Court, however, a judge could impose home confinement rather than prison time in a mandatory minimum case.

How will this charge impact my life?

In addition to criminal and administrative penalties, a federal DUI conviction can result in a whole host of so-called collateral, or secondary, consequences.  But many of these may be of primary importance in the lives of some defendants.  Depending upon the nature of the conviction, these consequences could include detrimental impacts to a person’s:

  • Immigration status
  • Security Clearances
  • Professional Licenses
  • Firearm Ownership
  • Public Housing Eligibility
  • Driving Privileges
  • Eligibility for Federal Benefits

Should I get a lawyer for a federal DUI charge?

Even a first federal DUI offense can result in up to 6 months in jail, so getting a competent and experienced criminal attorney is critical.  An attorney can assess your case and the government’s evidence to determine what defenses may be available. Each case varies depending on the specific circumstances and a good defense attorney will be able to determine what arguments to make.  In the event the facts and evidence are difficult to overcome, an attorney can also negotiate with the prosecutor to get the best deal possible.