Sometimes, people are charged with driving under the influence (DUI) while on federal property. These types of crimes are handled somewhat differently than the normal state-level offenses in either Magistrate or Municipal Courts, or in General Sessions Court for enhanced DUI’s. In this article, the criminal defense lawyers at Futeral & Nelson explain how this happens, how the criminal process works, and how sentencing can be affected.

Where Do I Go for Court for a Federal DUI in South Carolina?

If you are reading this article, you may have received a United States District Court Violation Notice, which should look similar to this one:

DUI on Federal Property Notice

You first need to look at Box 35 of this Notice to see where Court will be held. If you were charged in Charleston County or certain nearby counties, the address will likely be 85 Broad Street. You also need to review the boxes just above Box 35. Most likely, Box A was checked, and you HAVE to go to Court. For other violations, such as hunting violations, Box B might be checked, and you can plead guilty simply by paying the fine ahead of time, and online options are available. We strongly urge you to consult with an attorney BEFORE you ever step into a courtroom for a federal DUI, or any DUI for that matter.

How Can I Be Charged with a South Carolina State-Level DUI Offense in Federal Court?

18 U.S.C. § 13 of the federal code is called the Assimilative Crimes Act. Under this law, state law applies when actions happen on certain federal lands and when the action is not already punishable by federal law. Because there is no federal law on driving under the influence, then the Assimilative Crimes Act will apply and allow for federal prosecution of driving under the influence under South Carolina law in the Central Violations Bureau (CVB) court.

What is the Central Violations Bureau (CVB) Court?

At the Central Violations Bureau (CVB) court, you will find Federal Marshalls in there, military police, or other types of federal agents. An Assistant United States Attorney will be prosecuting. The CVB court docket is similar to state court dockets in that many cases are scheduled on a particular day, and they are disposed of over time. Eventually, the case will be disposed of either by dismissal, by a plea agreement, or by a bench or jury trial. These cases typically move faster to trial than state court DUI’s. The presiding judge will most likely be a Federal Magistrate Judge. The biggest difference, however, is that these cases follow the rules of federal criminal procedure instead of South Carolina rules of criminal procedure.

What Types of Penalties Can I Receive for a Federal DUI in South Carolina?

Under the Assimilative Crimes Act, you take the penalty for the state court offense and then add to it. The below chart sets forth the penalties. Keep in mind that this chart only illustrates maximum possibilities (For example, DUI 2nd offense has a minimum sentence of 5 days). This chart only discusses jail consequences, not fines or other consequences. Finally, “BAC” stands for “blood alcohol content,” as your citation may reflect a number if you gave a breath, blood, or urine sample.

Column 1 State Jail Potential Federal Add-On Total Jail Time
DUI 1st BAC < 0.10 30 days 1 year 1 year and 1 month
DUI 1st 0.10 < BAC < 0.15 30 days 1 year 1 year and 1 month
DUI 1st 0.15 < BAC 90 days 1 year 1 year and 1 month
DUI 2nd BAC < 0.10 1 year 1 year 2 years
DUI 2nd 0.10 < BAC < 0.15 2 years 1 year 3 years
DUI 2nd 0.15 < BAC 3 years 1 year 4 years
Felony DUI 15 years 1 year 16 years
Felony DUI causing serious bodily injury of a minor 15 years 5 years 20 years
Felony DUI causing death of a minor 15 years 10 years 25 years

Does My Driver’s License Get Suspended for Federal DUI?

The DMV will suspend you for federal DUI, however, there is a potential challenge to this suspension that our attorneys have not been able to make because these cases are not very common. Particularly, Subsection (b) of the Assimilation of Crimes Act provides: “Any limitation on the right or privilege to operate a motor vehicle imposed under this subsection shall apply only to the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.” Also, the South Carolina Code of Laws has language that bundles in suspensions for DUI’s in other “states” but does not expressly include “federal” DUI charges. Finally, there is a case called United States v. Rowe from 1979 that further supports our argument with regard to implied consent suspensions. We do not know yet whether this challenge will work, and we advise you to be prepared for the suspensions that come with DUI’s as if you were in state court. A more detailed explanation of these suspensions is found in our article here. 

How Do You Defend a DUI in Federal Court?

While the procedure is different, and the penalties are different, the substantive defense is similar to what we do in state court for DUI’s. Just like in state court, we get the police report, the in-car video from the police cruiser, the video from the breathalyzer room (regardless of whether you blew), booking records, dispatch records, and training records for the officers. If you submitted a breath, blood, or urine sample, there are other things we get as well. In federal court, we also get the statement of probable cause, information on any suspensions you may have against going on federal property, and whatever documents are particular to the agency that arrested you. After reviewing all of the evidence, we will tell you what we think of your case and will begin our negotiation with the prosecutor and the defense of your case.

Should I Get a Lawyer for a Federal DUI?

We always advise clients charged with driving under the influence to at least consult with an attorney before ever going to court. In federal cases, because the potential for jail time is much greater, we emphasize this even more. The attorneys at Futeral & Nelson are licensed in both the state and federal courts of South Carolina and have great experience defending DUI’s. If you are charged with a DUI in federal or state court, call us today to schedule a free consultation.