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Can DWI Ever Be Charged as a Federal Crime?

Can DWI Ever Be Charged As A Federal Crime?

Most criminal cases are handled under state law. This includes driving while intoxicated. If you are arrested for Driving While Intoxicated, your case will typically be handled by Virginia prosecutors acting under state law. But it is possible to be charged with DWI in federal court.

Drunk Driving on Federal Property

The most common reason DWI is prosecuted as a federal crime is that the offense itself took place on “federal property.” That is to say, the defendant was caught driving on property that is directly owned by the federal government. Federal property includes quite a bit of land–and roadways–under the jurisdiction of various federal agencies.

For example, any land under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service is subject to federal DWI laws. This includes many popular roadways here in northern Virginia, such as the George Washington Parkway.  Military locations, such as Quantico, Ft. Belvoir, or the Pentagon, have their own police, and offenses committed on the roads therein will be prosecuted in federal court in Alexandria.   Additionally, the entertainment venue Wolf Trap, in Vienna, is on federal property, and crimes committed there are prosecuted in federal court in Alexandria, rather than in Fairfax County.

Federal vs. State Criminal DWI Cases

When it comes to the substance of DWI law, the federal government and Virginia are largely the same. In both jurisdictions, a person is considered under the influence if his or her blood-alcohol concentration (BAC), as measured by a blood or breath test, is at least 0.08 percent. Even with a lower BAC, however, a person may still be prosecuted for a DWI if he or she is impaired.  And DWI does not just apply to alcohol-related impairment: A person can commit a DWI if they were under the influence of any intoxicating substance, including a prescription drug.

The main thing that differentiates federal and state Driving While Intoxicated cases is the legal process. In a state Driving While Intoxicated cases, the local Commonwealth’s Attorney handles the prosecution. Misdemeanor DWI cases are tried in a local General District Court. Any appeals from a misdemeanor conviction, as well as any felony DWI case, is heard in Circuit Court.

Federal DWI prosecutions are handled by the United States Attorney’s office. The cases are brought in a federal court. For offenses committed in northern Virginia, that means the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria.

It is critical to work with an experienced Fairfax, Virginia criminal defense attorney who understands both federal and state court systems. If you have been charged with a DWI and need legal representation, contact Whitestone Young, PC, today to schedule a consultation.

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