DUI: The Difference Between North Carolina State Law and Federal Law

Were you aware that where you get charged with a DUI, also referred to as Driving While Impaired (DWI) makes a big difference in how your case is handled? If you are charged with a DUI while on federally-owned property, the potential penalties you might be subject to are somewhat different than otherwise when arrested in a state jurisdiction.

At Sandman, Finn, & Fitzhugh Attorneys at Law, we are Raleigh DWI lawyers who have extensive experience in handling both state and federal drunk driving cases, allowing us to navigate the process smoothly. If you are charged with a federal DWI, you need an attorney who knows both the federal and state laws in order for you to get the best possible result. In this article, we discuss the differences in federal DWI law and North Carolina law.

When Is a DUI a Federal Offense?

A DUI is a federal offense when it takes place on federally-owned property and, as such, is subject to federal DUI law. For example, when a driver is driving while under the influence in a national forest, on a military base such as Camp Lejeune or Fort Bragg, a national park, or federally owned and maintained parkways, he/she can face federal DUI charges. Additionally, areas that are policed or maintained by federal authorities have federal jurisdiction. 

Examples of federally owned property in North Carolina include:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Pisgah National Forest
  • Fort Bragg
  • Camp Lejeune
  • Cape Hatteras National Seashore
  • Pope Air Force Base
  • Seymour Johnson Air Force Base
  • Croatan National Forest

Many times people may not even know they are on federal land until they are charged. A great portion of these lands are used for recreation, making it easy to be in a situation where you are charged with a DWI.

What Can You Expect When Your DUI is Charged as a Federal Offense?

The same as with state law, you can be charged with a federal DUI if your blood alcohol content is .08% or higher. The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) criminalizes driving while impaired on federal property. Federal prosecutors can charge a defendant in federal court using state law as stated in the Assimilative Crimes Act

However, some DUI cases require federal prosecution, and sometimes defendants will face DUI charges at both the state and the federal level. Bear in mind that federal and state courts are completely separate. Therefore, the constitutional protection that prohibits double jeopardy does not apply in a federal DUI case. Because of these complexities, you should seek the representation of federal lawyers who understand both federal and state law for a DUI charge.

Federal Law for Driving Under the Influence

If the Federal Court uses N.C. laws for a DUI, according to N.C., your punishment will be on a sliding scale that factors in prior convictions, your blood alcohol level at arrest, and other pertinent circumstances. For example, if you are convicted for the first time, a Level Five DWI in state court, you can face possible penalties such as:

  • 24 hours to 60 days in jail
  • Probation
  • Court costs
  • Fines up to $200
  • A 12-month revocation of your N.C. driving privileges

If the circumstances of your case are more serious, then the penalties are more serious as well, resulting in years of prison time and up to $10,000 in fines. Additionally, after a conviction, your insurance will increase and you will have a criminal conviction on your permanent record.

A DWI in a National Park

The penalties for a DWI in a national park can be much more severe than elsewhere. If you are charged with a DWI in a national park, you will be charged with a Class B misdemeanor that is subject to federal penalties. This differs from getting a federal DWI on any other federally-owned property. The potential consequences when you are convicted of a first-time federal DWI in a national park include:

  • Up to six months in federal prison
  • Fines reaching $5,000
  • Up to five years on federal probation

What Happens When Your DUI Occurs on an N.C. Military Base?

If you are a civilian and convicted of a DUI while you are visiting a military base, the military police can detain you and remand custody to the appropriate federal, state, or local law enforcement agency.  Typically, when a civilian commits a DUI on a military base, he/she will face prosecution in federal court by a federal prosecutor. In this case, the federal court applies the state law. Therefore, if a civilian commits a DUI on federal property, a federal court will apply North Carolina’s laws during the trial.

Contact Our Legal Team Today for Help with Your Federal DWI Case

If you find yourself charged with drunk driving on federal property, you need an experienced attorney knowledgeable of both federal and state of N.C DWI laws like our Eastern District of N.C. federal attorney, William F. Finn Jr.  Our team of legal professionals will represent you as allies and help you fight for your rights. If you need a DWI attorney in Wake County, Johnston County, Durham County, Franklin County, or in the eastern district of N.C., please reach out to us today for a free consultation at (919) 845-6688 or fill out our contact form to get started.