Federal DWI

Are you facing a federal DWI?

I am licensed to practice in several federal court districts, including in San Antonio, and yes, there are federal DWI arrests and prosecution. It is similar to the particular State in which the federal property or military base is located. While there are no federal DWI laws, the United States courts incorporate the laws of the State in which the government property is located.

San Antonio is located in the United States District Courts Western District of Texas. It is one of the largest districts by area in the United States.

Western District of Texas:

The Western District comprises the counties of Andrews, Atascosa, Bandera, Bastrop, Bell, Bexar, Blanco, Bosque, Brewster, Burleson, Burnet, Caldwell, Comal, Coryell, Crane, Culberson, Dimmit, Ector, Edwards, El Paso, Falls, Freestone, Frio, Gillespie, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Hamilton, Hays, Hill, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Karnes, Kendall, Kerr, Kimble, Kinney, Lampasas, Lee, Leon, Limestone, Llano, Loving, Martin, Mason, Maverick, McCulloch, McLennan, Medina, Midland, Milam, Pecos, Presidio, Real, Reeves, Robertson, San Saba, Somervell, Terrell, Travis, Upton, Uvalde, Val Verde, Ward, Washington, Williamson, Wilson, Winkler and Zavalla.

Court for the Western District is held in San Antonio, Austin, Del Rio, El Paso, Midland-Odessa, Pecos, and Waco.

Most federal DWI arrests in San Antonio are on military bases. They usually occur at or just inside the gate at which public entry is allowed. Sometimes residents on base leave their homes intoxicated, and they do not make it off base before they are stopped by the military police. The police ask the driver certain predicate questions in their encounter at the car window. They remove them from the car, and they instruct the driver to perform sobriety tests. You are not required to do that! Leaving the car in the possession of the police, the driver is then escorted to the police station on base.

At the station the MPs attempt to obtain a statement (you may remain silent); search for contraband and request a breath specimen. Just as in Texas, a federal arrestee may refuse a breath test, and it’s okay to do that. Unlike the State, however, in most instances, the military police will not obtain a blood test warrant. (If it is a felony DWI or if there was a death or injury accident, the police may obtain a warrant for blood.) For the military police, the current practice for simple DWI is not to seek a warrant for blood. After an hour or two, the arrested person is released to find his way home with a notice that he will be hearing from the court at some time in the future. Most often the whole procedure all sounds very informal and innocuous.

However, three or four months later the person will get a very formal letter from the Federal Pre-Trial Services Department to meet them at a specific time and place in the federal building. They are very nosey during these interviews. There will also be an imposing letter with an order to appear before the federal magistrate on the fourth floor of the United States District Courthouse.

This hearing is for arraignment, and you will need a federally licensed lawyer. At that hearing you will be advised of your rights under the federal laws and you will be entering a plea of not guilty. You will be (formally) arrested, but the court will order your release on a personal recognizance bond. You don’t pay anything for it, but if you violate it the charge is $10,000. You will be accompanied by the U.S. Marshall’s Service to the second floor holding cell where you will be booked, and you will sign your bond and promise to appear. Then you will be released in about an hour or less. This is a “petty offense,” but when you are there it doesn’t seem petty at all.

The military and federal jurisdiction extends only to the boundary of the base or other property on which the arrest was made. Therefore, the Department of Public Safety has no jurisdiction to suspend your license for the federal refusal. Ordinarily, the DPS will not get involved concerning the license even in the event of a conviction because it is outside their jurisdiction. Additionally, the federal judges cannot suspend a license; order the person not to drive; or to drive only with an alcohol-monitoring device in the car because the judges do not have jurisdiction over the State streets. However, the judges will enter an order forbidding the person to drive on the federal reservation for one year.

Jury trials are reserved for felony DWI arrests. Petty offenses are tried to the judge only and before a U S Magistrate. You can have a trial, and you cannot be sentenced to a greater punishment for requesting a trial. Federal probation for a year is usually the punishment upon a guilty finding, and the fines are lower than in the State. Some of the current judges are actually pretty fair about these things.

I have practiced in these federal courts since 1974, and I have had quite a bit of experience with jury and court trials. Most of my trials have been before the District Judges and juries involving things like bank fraud, large drug conspiracies, extortion and gang activity. I have handled one federal death penalty case. While DWI is on the low end of the criminal law spectrum in the federal system it is, nevertheless, very intimidating. Therefore, I treat these cases as seriously as I would treat these very serious felony matters because I understand how difficult it is for my clients.

By the way, the Military Police have an Intoxilyzer 9000, and they are trained to administer the test. The machine is maintained by Alamo Forensic Services that has a lab in San Antonio for maintaining most of the similar machines in San Antonio. However, the guidelines for maintenance and operation of the military machines are not governed by the Texas Department of Public Safety as are the machines in the State of Texas. Machine testing records may not be as complete as those in the State jurisdictions.