If you are arrested on suspicion of DWI in Texas, chances are fairly high that you'll be charged with a violation of a Texas state law and face state-imposed penalties. However, if you're arrested on suspicion of DWI while on federal land you could face federal criminal charges. It is important to know that your legal rights and obligations, as well as the potential consequences of your actions, can be different when you are stopped for DWI on federal property.
If you've recently been arrested on federal property for DWI you need the help of an experienced and Board Certified Houston criminal DWI attorney. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to learn about your legal rights and how we can help you secure the best possible outcome in your federal DWI case.
Federal DUI Law
It is a violation of federal law to operate or be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle on federal land while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For the purposes of federal law, you will be considered to be “under the influence” if you:
- Have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that exceeds the legal limit of .08 percent; or
- Are incapable of safely operating a vehicle after consuming any amount of drugs or alcohol.
So, you can face federal DUI charges even if your BAC is not above the legal limit. If a federal officer believes that you have consumed drugs or alcohol and cannot drive safely, you may be arrested for DUI.
What is Federal Property?
Federal DUI laws apply whenever you are on land that belongs to the federal government. This includes, but is not limited to:
- National parks
- National forests
- National monuments
- Historic grounds
- Parking lots and garages for federal buildings and courthouses
- Post offices
- Military bases, and
- Any land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Chemical Testing in Federal DUI Matters
When you are pulled over on suspicion of DWI in Texas, you generally have the right to refuse chemical testing. In 2014, a state court held that the state's implied consent laws were a violation of a driver's Constitutional rights. As a result, you now typically have the right to refuse an officer's request to provide a sample for breath or blood testing. (Be warned: there can be serious consequences, including the automatic revocation of your license if you are subsequently convicted of DWI.)
When you are pulled over on federal land, however, you lose the right to refuse chemical testing. Under federal law, operating a vehicle on federal land triggers implied consent to testing. In other words, when you choose to drive on federal land you automatically agree to comply with an officer's reasonable request for a sample of breath, blood, or urine for DWI purposes. The state of Texas may no longer have implied consent laws in effect, but the federal government still does.
Failure to comply with an officer's request for a sample of your blood, breath, or urine can be used as evidence of guilt in your federal criminal DWI proceeding.
No Jury Option in Federal DUI Cases
When you are arrested and charged with DWI in Texas, you have the right to defend yourself in front of a jury of your peers. The procedure is a bit different when you are facing federal DUI charges. Rather than presenting your case to a jury, the matter will be heard and decided by a single federal judge. The judge will consider arguments and evidence from both sides and determine whether there is evidence to show that you have violated federal DUI law.
This is one considerable drawback to facing federal, rather than Texas state, DUI charges. A jury trial is typically preferable to a bench trial. A jury comprised of your peers will generally be more receptive to persuasive emotional arguments and more open to considering the validity (or lack thereof) of state evidence.
Consequences of a Federal DUI in Texas
In most cases, a first-time federal DUI offense will be classified as a misdemeanor. If convicted, your criminal sentence could include:
- Six months in a federal prison
- $5,000 in criminal fines; and/or
- Five years of probation.
The penalties for DUI will be more severe if you have a prior conviction for DUI or another crime. The judge will have the discretion to increase the terms of your criminal sentence as he or she sees fit.
A federal DUI can also be elevated to a felony if certain aggravating factors exist. These may include:
- DUI with a minor in the vehicle (maximum of 1 year in federal prison)
- DUI causing serious bodily injury (maximum of 5 years in federal prison)
- DUI causing the death of a minor (maximum of 10 years in federal prison).
If you are a member of the military and convicted of DUI, you may also face additional consequences, including revocation of certain privileges, forfeiture in pay, court-martial, or discharge.
Get Help Defending Federal DUI Charges in Houston
Have you recently been arrested for driving while intoxicated on federal property? It is important to understand that your rights and obligations under federal law can vary significantly than those under Texas state law. What does not change, however, is your right to defend yourself against any criminal charges that you may face.
In order to secure the best possible outcome in your case, you need the help of an experienced Texas DWI attorney. Call the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to schedule a free consultation with our skilled legal team now. We will review your case, determine the best strategy for your defense, and explain how your case will likely unfold. As your attorneys, we will fight to protect you from the harsh consequences of a federal DUI conviction.