Whether you are planning for an afternoon picnic on Cumberland Island or spending a week on the Appalachian Trail, you should know that federal property is governed by different rules than other public places in the state of Georgia. Federal property is subject to federal law – even in cases of DUI. If you engage in conduct that constitutes grounds for a DUI charge while on federal property, you can be charged with a federal offense. Understanding the law, and what you may be facing, is critical to a federal DUI defense.
Understanding Federal Laws on DUI
There are three separate types of conduct that can result in DUI charges on federal land, including:
- Driving conduct
- Physical control of a vehicle, or
- Refusing to test
DUI Driving Conduct
If one drives a motor vehicle while having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or more, or if one is under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of drugs or alcohol that renders him or her unable to drive safely while on federal land, this can result in a federal DUI charge. This conduct, for example, includes backing a truck up to the boat launch to load or unload a boat. It also includes driving to a campsite or from one campsite to another one.
Any driving on federal lands after a legally sufficient amount of drinking can result in DUI charges.
DUI Physical Control
If one is in physical control of a motor vehicle while having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or more, or if one is under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of drugs or alcohol that renders him or her unable to drive safely while on federal land, this can result in a federal DUI charge. This conduct includes sleeping in the front seat of a vehicle while it is running, to stay warm, after a legally sufficient amount of drinking. It also includes sitting in the car with the keys in the ignition and the radio playing or with the headlights on to illuminate an area, so as to put up a tent, for example.
“Actual physical control” can be subject to argument depending on the facts. However, the closer you are to being able to drive the vehicle, the more likely you can be charged with a DUI under the theory of physical control of the vehicle.
Refusing to Test
Whether or not you have had anything to drink and whether or not you think you have or have not had enough to drink to be guilty of DUI, you are required to take a test if asked to do so by the police under the legal theory of implied consent. Refusing to provide a breath sample when the police ask you to do so is a crime -- even if you have had absolutely nothing to drink or are well below the legal limit.
Understanding What Happens If You Are Charged with a Federal DUI
If you are charged with a DUI at a national park or other federal lands, you face federal charges. Federal crimes are heard in federal court. As such, if charged with a federal DUI, you need an attorney licensed to practice in federal court.
There are some differences between state and federal court. For example, in state court, a judge makes decisions about pretrial issues, such as the constitutionality of the stop and the sufficiency of the evidence to charge a case. In state court, the defendant can choose whether the judge or a jury makes the decision about whether or not the state has proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
In federal court, on the other hand, DUI cases are presented in front of a federal magistrate. Additionally, contrary to the state court rules, in federal court, a defendant is not entitled to a trial by jury. Instead, the magistrate hears the case.
Regardless of whether a criminal case is heard in state or federal court, the government has the burden of proving its case against you if you have been charged with a DUI. The government will likely bring in witnesses to testify in open court. The defense has the right to cross-examine the government's witnesses. Further, in both state and federal court, the defense can call witnesses favorable to the defendant to testify. The defendant can testify or can choose to remain silent at a criminal trial. Finally, the government's burden is to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt in both state and federal court.
Potential Criminal Consequences of a DUI Conviction
The consequence for committing a DUI offense on federal property includes up to six months of incarceration in a federal facility. Additionally, a federal DUI conviction could result in a fine of up to $5,000. Finally, one convicted of a federal DUI may be put on probation for up to five years. While on probation, defendants are expected to get an alcohol use assessment and follow the recommendations of the assessment. This may include anything from inpatient treatment to an alcohol education class.
Finding Experienced Gainesville DUI Attorneys to Advocate for You
In addition to the consequences in criminal court, people convicted of a federal DUI may face collateral consequences. Because of the serious potential consequences for a federal DUI, it is critical that one has an experienced federal DUI attorney advocating on his or her behalf. Our Gainesville DUI attorneys have experience in handling federal DUI cases. From challenging blood and breath tests to challenging the admissibility of evidence, our DUI attorneys fight for our clients every step of the way. Let our DUI attorneys put our knowledge and experience to work for you. Contact us to discuss your case today.