Federal DWI: When your case will go to federal court

How a DWI can be a Federal DWI: When your case will go to federal court

Federal DWIs exist. Mainly, states oversee traffic violations and vehicular crimes. As such, District Attorney’s Offices prosecute most DWI cases. However, federal prosecutors have jurisdiction over DWIs that occur on or near federal property. For example, federal property includes:

  • airports;
  • military bases;
  • national parks;
  • courthouses;
  • post offices;
  • and parking lots attached to federal government buildings.

What are federal DWI laws?

Federal DWI regulations are found in several different laws. Such as:

National Parks, Forests and Public Property Law (36 C.F.R. §4.23) 

Section 4.23 of the National Parks, Forests and Public Property has several elements. Specifically, federal DWI elements under the National Parks, Forests and Public Property Law are:

(1) Operation or being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle, while

(2) Under the influence of alcohol, or drug(s), or any combination of alcohol and drugs,

(3) to a degree that that renders the operator incapable of safe operation or the alcohol concentration in the operator’s blood or breath is .08 or above.

Important Notes

Two important things to keep in mind. First, if the state law has a lower BAC limit (below a .08), the state limit applies to federal DWI. Currently, Utah is the only state with a lower limit – .05.

Second, legal consumption of alcohol or medication is not a defense if it renders you incapable of safe driving.

Uniform Code of Military Justice (10 U.S. Code § 913, Art. 113) 

Another regulation that governs federal DWIs is the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This is a set of federal laws that regulate conduct of members of U.S. military. Specifically, Article 113 of Section 913, is Drunken or Reckless Operation of a Vehicle, Aircraft, or Vessel. Elements this law are:

(1) Operation or physical control of any vehicle, aircraft or vessel in a reckless or wanton manner, or while impaired by a substance; OR

(2) Operation or actual physical control of any vehicle, aircraft, or vessel while drunk or when the BAC concentration is .08 or more. However, the U.S. Secretary of Defense may lower this limit.

Lastly, the violations of this section are punishable as a court-martial may direct.

Assimilative Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. §13)

Additionally, Assimilative Crimes Act, commonly called “ACA,” allows for state law to apply to federal land in some situations. Specifically, ACA applies where Congress has not enacted a federal law as the Supreme Court explained in United States v. Sharpnack. Basically, the purpose of the ACA is to “fill in any gaps” when there is no federal law regarding conduct on federal land.

The Assimilative Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 13, provides:

“Whoever within or upon [federal property] is guilty of any act of omission which, although not made punishable by any enactment of Congress, would be punishable if committed or omitted within the jurisdiction of the State … in which such place is situated, by the laws thereof in force at the time of such act or omission, shall be guilty of a like offense and subject to a like punishment.”

Therefore, DWIs on federal land can be prosecuted under state law.


In conclusion, it is important to consult an experienced federal DWI attorney regarding your case. Especially considering the penalties involved. Please call us at 212-729-9494 or contact us to schedule a consultation to schedule your free consultation!