26 Nov 23

What federal criminal charges can result from a DUI?

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Last Updated on: 5th December 2023, 02:11 pm


What Federal Criminal Charges Can Result from a DUI?

A DUI (driving under the influence) charge is usually prosecuted at the state level. However, in certain circumstances, a DUI can also lead to federal criminal charges. This article will discuss what kinds of federal charges you could face after a DUI arrest.

DUI Resulting in Death or Injury

In cases where a drunk driving incident results in death or serious bodily injury to another person, federal prosecutors may file additional charges beyond the “standard” DUI/DWI charges filed at the state level.

For example, if your drunk driving caused a fatal car accident on federal lands like a national park, you could face federal manslaughter charges under 18 U.S. Code § 1112 in addition to DUI charges. Manslaughter is much more serious than a basic DUI charge, carrying up to 15 years in federal prison.

So in cases of drunk driving resulting in death or serious injury on federal property, the federal criminal charges and penalties you face could be exponentially more severe than similar state charges. The assistance of an attorney experienced in federal criminal defense is critical.

DUI on Federally Funded Roads

Drunk driving incidents occurring on federally funded roads may also trigger federal DUI charges in some circumstances. Under 23 U.S. Code § 163, known as “Section 163,” states were encouraged to pass tougher drunk driving laws by threatening to withhold federal highway funding.

As a result, many states now have “Section 163 repeat offender” laws imposing harsher penalties when a drunk driver has prior DUI convictions within a set timeframe, typically 5 or 10 years. These state laws are directly tied to federal funding laws.

So if you are arrested for DUI in a state with Section 163 repeat drunk driving laws, having prior DUIs could mean facing state felony charges rather than misdemeanors. And due to the federal funding component, some federal penalties may also come into play.

Again, an experienced DUI defense lawyer is essential to navigate federal implications and seek the best possible case resolution when Section 163 repeat offender laws are triggered.

DUI on Tribal Lands

Native American tribal lands like reservations have their own laws and court systems separate from federal and state laws. However, tribal courts still follow many principles of federal law when it comes to prosecuting crimes occurring on tribal lands.

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This includes DUI arrests on tribal lands. So if you are arrested for drunk driving on a Native American reservation, the precise charges and penalties you face may vary depending on the laws of that specific tribe. But the core DUI laws are likely derived from federal code provisions on DUIs.

Tribal DUI cases can be complex to defend with overlapping tribal, federal, and even state laws potentially applying. Having a lawyer experienced with tribal court DUI cases is extremely helpful in identifying the relevant laws and crafting an effective defense.

DUI in the U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands are a U.S. territory with their own local courts and laws. But as a territory, federal laws and courts also apply to crimes committed on the islands.

When it comes to DUI, the Virgin Islands has its own local DUI statutes prohibiting drunk driving. But federal DUI laws also expressly apply on U.S. territories like the Virgin Islands.

So if you receive a DUI in the Virgin Islands, you may face charges and penalties under both Virgin Islands DUI laws as well as federal DUI statutes. The applicability of federal versus local laws will depend on exactly where the DUI occurred and the discretion of prosecutors.

Having a lawyer familiar with both Virgin Islands and federal DUI laws is key to building an effective defense in these scenarios.

DUI in Other U.S. Territories

The same principles apply to DUI arrests in other U.S. territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. As territories, both federal and local DUI laws can come into play.

The interaction of local and federal laws can be complex, so working with an attorney experienced in territorial DUIs is highly recommended.

DUI on Federal Installations Abroad

American military bases and embassies overseas are considered federal property, even though they are located in foreign nations. As such, if you receive a DWI or DUI on an overseas U.S. military base, you may face federal DUI charges back in the United States rather than charges under the local laws of the foreign country.

The penalties for a federal DUI conviction – including potential jail time – would apply just as if the drunk driving incident occurred on U.S. soil.

Having an attorney who understands extraterritorial application of federal law is important when defending against DUI charges stemming from an incident abroad.

DUI Impacting Interstate Commerce

Finally, there is one very rare scenario where federal prosecutors can pursue DUI charges even when the incident occurs on state land within the U.S. Under a clause in the U.S. Constitution called the “Interstate Commerce Clause,” the federal government has authority to regulate criminal activity impacting interstate business and trade.

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In very select cases, federal prosecutors have argued that drunk driving incidents interfere with interstate commerce – for example, by obstructing interstate highways. This argument has been used to bring federal DUI charges against drunk semi-truck drivers and others involved in interstate transportation.

However, federal power to regulate local DUIs under the Interstate Commerce Clause is controversial and disputed. The assistance of a skilled constitutional lawyer would be necessary to challenge federal jurisdiction in such cases.