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DUI / DWI Defense in Federal Court

Although the vast majority of DUI or DWI cases are prosecuted in the state courts throughout the Tampa Bay area of Florida, a small number of these cases are prosecuted in the Federal Courthouse at the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division. Federal DUI or DWI cases arise when a person is accused of committing this offense while on federally owned property such as the MacDill Air Force Base, the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, or the De Soto National Memorial Park.

If you were given a violation notice for any criminal offense and notice to appear at the Federal Courthouse in Tampa, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at the Sammis Law Firm, P.A. We fight misdemeanor charges in state court and federal court including DUI and DWI cases. Contact an attorney to find out more about the charges pending against you, possible penalties and punishments, and the collateral consequences that can last long after the court case is resolved. Call 813-250-0500.

Contact an attorney to find out more about the charges pending against you, possible penalties and punishments, and the collateral consequences that can last long after the court case is resolved. Call 813-250-0500.


The Violation Notice & Notice to Appear in Federal Court

In most of these cases, you will be issued a Violation notice from the United States District Court that lists the time and place of the offense, the charge, and a factual basis for the charge.  

You will also be issued a Notice to Appear before a U.S. Magistrate Judge at the U.S. Courthouse for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division located at 801 N. Florida Avenue. Many people affectionately refer to the courtroom as “Federal Traffic Court.” The State of Florida uses the term “DUI” which stands for “Driving under the Influence” while the comparable charges in Federal Court are often called “DWI” which stands for “Driving under the Influence.” 

The federal statutes for DWI charges are very relatively vague. In fact, very few of these cases ever go up on appeal so there is a lack of guidance on many issues such as the jury instructions that should be given at trial. The absolute lack of a statutory or regulatory scheme for investigating DWI / DUI cases often has advantages for the criminal defense attorney.


Types of Federal DWI Charges

The DWI / DUI  charges also vary depending on where the offense occurred which also complicates matters. The charges vary depending on whether the DWI allegedly occurred at a National Park, the VA Hospital, and Military Base or another location.


DUI at MacDill Airforce Base in Tampa, FL

In some cases, including a DUI arrest at MacDill Airforce Base in South Tampa,  you will be issued a United States District Court Violation Notice to appear in court in the Tampa Division for the crime of DUI Charged under State Code, which is usually listed at Florida Statute Section 316.193.

You might be given a Preliminary Suspension of Driving Privileges Form which provides as follows:

  1. Effective immediately, your privilege to operate a motor vehicle on MacDill Air Force Base AFB in Tampa, FL, are preliminarily suspended. This suspension prohibits you from operating any motor vehicle while on all military installations. Additionally, you are prohibited from operating government owned or leased vehicles. The reason for this action is becasue you have been charged with: ___ Driving under the Influence (DUI) of alcohol / drugs. BAC Level: 0%; or Refusal to submit to a blood alcohol test.
  2. Until final adjudication of your case, your base driving privileges will remain suspended....
  3. Hearing / administrative reviews. Your case will be reviewd automatically by the 6 AMW Traffic Violation Review Authority (TVRA) after assembly of all evidence in your case. If it is determined all aspect of
  4. the ofense have been meet, your preliminary suspension will become final.

You might also receive a Statement of Suspect / Witness Complaint form (AF IMT 1168, 19980401, V2) which provides:

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF OFFENSES AND 5TH AMENDMENT / ARTICLE 31 RIGHTS ADVISEMENT (Suspect Only)

I have been advised that I am suspected of the following offenses: _________________ and advised that I have the following rights according to the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution / Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice:

  • I have the right to remain silent - that is to say nothing at all.
  • Any statement I make, oral or written, may be used as evidence against me in a trial or in other judicial, non-judicial, or administrative proceedings.
  • I have the right to consult with a lawyer.
  • I have the right to have a lawyer present during this interview.
  • I may obtain a civilian lawyer of my own choice at no expense to the government.
  • I may request a lawyer any time during the interview.
  • If I decide to answer questions with or without a lawyer present, I may stop the questioning at any time.
  • MILIARY ONLY; If I want a military lawyer, one will be appointed for me free of charge.
  • CIVILIANS ONLY: If I cannot afford a lawyer and want one, a lawyer will be appointe for me by civilian authorities.

You will also be given the option of putting your initials in a box that says: I want a lawyer. I will not make any statement or answer any questions until I talk to a lawyer.

Privacy Act Statement. Authority: 10 U.S.C. 8013; 44 U.S.C. 3101; and EO 9397. Principal Purpose: Used to record information and details of criminal activity which may require investigative action by commanders, supervisors, security police, AFOSI special agents, etc: and to provide information to appropriate individuals within DoD organizations who ensure proper legal and administrative action is taken. Routine Uses: Information may be disclosed to local, county, state and federal law enforcement / investigative authorities for investigation and possible criminal prosecution or civil court action. Information extracted from this form may be used in other related criminal and/or civil proceedings.


DWI Cases at a National Park

For a DUI that occurs at a National Park, the offense is usually charged as:

  • operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol to a degree that renders him or her incapable of safe operation in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 4.23(a)(1) (usually involving a refusal to submit to chemical testing of the breath, blood or urine); or
  • operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 grams or higher in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 4.23(a)(2).

Related charge can include the unsafe operation of a motor vehicle in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 4.22(b)(1).  It is also possible that the DWI charge could be reduced to this less serious charge during plea negotiations. Related charges can also include an open container violation of 36 C.F.R. § 2.35.


DWI Cases at a VA Hospital

The Department of Veterans Affairs, VA DIRECTIVE 0730, dated on December 12, 2012 provides that Title 38 U.S.C. 901 and 902(a)(1) authorizes VA police officers to enforce Federal laws and the rules prescribed by the Secretary in Title 38 CFR 1.218(a) and (b).

Under that directive, the exercise of all enforcement actions and uses of arrest authority shall be in accordance with the policies and procedures contained in this directive and VA Handbook 0730.

If a DWI occurs on property owned and operated by the VA Hospital or other VA facilities then the offense is most often charged under C.F.R. § 1.218(a)(7) which reads:

(7) Alcoholic beverages and narcotics. Operating a motor vehicle on property by a person under the influence of alcoholic beverages, narcotic drugs, hallucinogens, marijuana, barbiturates, or amphetamines is prohibited….

C.F.R. § 1.218 (b)(15) provides the DWI at the VA facility is punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to six months and a fine of $500.

Operation of a vehicle under the influence of alcoholic beverages or nonprescribed narcotic drugs, hallucinogens, marijuana, barbiturates, or amphetamines, $500.


The Assimilated Crimes Act

The Assimilation Crime Act “provide[s] a set of criminal laws for federal enclaves by the use of the penal law of the local state ‘to fill the gaps in federal criminal law.’ “ United States v. Brown, 608 F.2d 551, 553 (5th Cir.1979) (internal citations and quotations omitted). “The government can resort to state law for prosecution only if no act of Congress directly makes a defendant's conduct punishable.” Id.

Pursuant to the Assimilated Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 13, et seq., 18 U.S.C. § 3118 provides:

(a) Consent.-Whoever operates a motor vehicle in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States consents thereby to a chemical test or tests of such person's blood, breath, or urine, if arrested for any offense arising from such person's driving while under the influence of a drug or alcohol in such jurisdiction. The test or tests shall be administered upon the request of a police officer having reasonable grounds to believe the person arrested to have been driving a motor vehicle upon the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States while under the influence of drugs or alcohol in violation of the laws of a State, territory, possession, or district.

(b) Effect of Refusal.-Whoever, having consented to a test or tests by reason of subsection (a), refuses to submit to such a test or tests, after having first been advised of the consequences of such a refusal, shall be denied the privilege of operating a motor vehicle upon the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States during the period of a year commencing on the date of arrest upon which such test or tests was refused, and such refusal may be admitted into evidence in any case arising from such person's driving while under the influence of a drug or alcohol in such jurisdiction. Any person who operates a motor vehicle in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States after having been denied such privilege under this subsection shall be treated for the purposes of any civil or criminal proceedings arising out of such operation as operating such vehicle without a license to do so.


Tampa Attorney for DUI / DWI in Federal Court

If you were charged with a DWI or drunk driving offense under Federal Law then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at the Sammis Law Firm. We represent clients in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division.

We represent clients charged with crimes at the MacDill Air Force Base, the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, or the De Soto National Memorial Park. Call 813-250-0500 today for a free consultation to discuss the facts of your case.