DWI on Federal Land in Texas

Posted by Doug Murphy | Jan 23, 2023 | 0 Comments

You undoubtedly have many questions if you're facing a charge for driving while intoxicated on federal lands in Texas. How is this different from a state DWI? Is it more serious? In many states, federal DWI or DUI law is stricter than state law. That's not necessarily true in Texas, where strict DWI laws exist. But even if you're facing a DWI on federal lands, an expert in Texas DWI can help.

Texas DWI Law

Under Texas law, you can face DWI charges even when your blood alcohol content is below .o8%, which is the legal limit. That's because Texas defines someone as “intoxicated” if they:

  • Not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

Tex. Penal Code § 49.01 (2001). So, you can face DWI charges if you were operating a motor vehicle in public, and you have a BAC over .08%, or you don't have the normal use of your mental or physical faculties.

What is a Federal DWI?

Federal charges for driving while intoxicated typically follow federal law. However, in some situations, you could still face charges under Texas DWI law for a DWI charge on federal land.

Federal Land

Typically, if the police arrest you for a DWI in Texas, you'll face Texas state charges. But if the police arrest you for driving under the influence on federal land, you can face federal DWI or DUI charges. Federal land in Texas can include any land owned by the federal government, such as:

  • National parks,
  • National monuments,
  • Government compounds or military bases,
  • Parking lots on federal land,
  • Post offices,
  • Some airports,
  • Federal courthouses, and
  • Any property owned by a federal agency or the federal government.

Federal property near the Houston area where you could face federal DUI charges can include:

  • Joint Reserve Base Ellington,
  • Joint Forces Reserve Center Houston,
  • Big Thicket National Reserve,
  • Waco Mammoth National Monument,
  • San Antonio Missions National Historic Park,
  • Padre Island National Seashore,
  • Big Bend National Park,
  • Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park, and
  • Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park.

Federal DWI Laws

Federal DWI law is similar to Texas state law, prohibiting someone from operating a vehicle with a BAC of .08% or higher or if you are impaired to the point that it impacts your ability to drive safely. Zero tolerance laws for minors also apply on federal land, meaning anyone under 21 with a BAC of .01% or higher can face DWI charges.

The law concerning driving while intoxicated in national parks is covered by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). A person is guilty of DWI in a national park if they are operating or in physical control of a vehicle and:

  • Under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the point that renders them incapable of safe operation, or
  • Have a BAC of .08% or higher.

36 CFR § 4.23 (2018).

Like under Texas law, you can face a charge for DWI on national park land even if your BAC is below .08% if you are too drunk or impaired to operate your vehicle safely. You could also face charges if you are in “physical control” of your vehicle, even if you aren't driving. So, if you've pulled over to sleep on the side of the road, you could still face a charge for DWI.

Uniform Code of Military Justice

For military service members or reservists on active duty, an arrest on base or other federal lands for DWI can result in charges and punishment under Article 113 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). See 10 USC § 913 (2019). Article 113 prohibits service members from operating or physically controlling “any vehicle, aircraft, or vessel in a reckless or wanton manner or while impaired” or with a BAC over the state limit or .08%, whichever is lower. In Texas, the legal BAC limit is .08% or .04% if you hold a commercial driver's license.

Punishments under the UCMJ can include:

  • A letter of reprimand,
  • A court-martial,
  • Forfeiture of pay,
  • Loss of rank or grade,
  • Corrective training,
  • Extra duties,
  • Dishonorable discharge,
  • A bar to reenlistment,
  • Confinement to base,
  • Loss of privileges or passes,
  • Participation in a substance abuse or alcohol abuse treatment program, and
  • Up to 18 months in jail.

Federal Assimilative Crimes Act

Under the Federal Assimilative Crimes Act, state law will apply if someone violates state law on federal land and there is no federal law covering the crime. So, Texas DWI law will apply if you're arrested for DWI on federal land where federal law is silent. This could happen if you're stopped for a suspected DWI on federal land that the federal government doesn't manage. In that case, you will likely face Texas DWI charges.

You Need an Expert in DWI Law

If you're facing a DWI on federal land in Teas, you shouldn't try to navigate the legal process alone. You need an expert in DWI defense with experience handling federal charges to get the best possible outcome in your case. Attorney Doug Murphy is an expert in DWI Defense and Criminal Defense Law, holding Board Certifications in DWI defense from the National College for DUI Defense and accredited by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and the American Bar Association, and Criminal Defense Law from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. U.S. News and World Report recently named Doug as a Best Lawyers in America for 2023 Houston DWI defense.

Doug and his skilled team at the Doug Murphy Law Firm have been successfully defending complex DWI cases and federal criminal charges for years. Find out how they can help you too. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm online or give them a call at 713-229-8333 to schedule your consultation.

About the Author

Doug Murphy

Doug Murphy is one of only two Texas lawyers Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and also in DWI Defense by the National College for DUI Defense, accredited by the American Bar Association and the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.


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