Federal Vs. State DUI Charges

Driving under the influence (DUI) is treated as a serious offense whether in federal court or in Florida state court. In this article, we explain the key differences between a federal DUI and a Florida state DUI. 

The experienced DUI defense lawyers at Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law in Tampa, believe that everyone should have a full understanding of the distinctions in legal procedures that occur in Florida state court and the federal courts. If you are facing DUI charges in either the federal or state courts, contact our office for answers and for immediate help fighting your charge. 



What Determines if a DUI is a Federal or State Case? 


Location: The most critical factor determining whether a DUI will be prosecuted at the federal or state level is the location of the offense. Federal DUI charges are filed when the offense occurs on federal property, such as national parks, military bases, post offices, or other federally owned lands. Florida state DUI charges arise from incidents allegedly committed on state roads, highways, or other public properties within the state’s jurisdiction. 


While the great majority of DUI cases involve drivers on state roads and highways and are prosecuted in state court, federal DUI charges do occur and are considered to be important. Federal properties are often protected lands and a DUI driver who damages protected federal land is prosecuted vigorously.  


Another significant consideration in the prosecution of federal DUI cases is the fact that many people who frequent federal properties have jobs for which they were granted security clearance. A DUI driver on federal property may be a federal employee, a member of the armed services, or a contractor trusted with access to confidential national security information. The government will often downgrade or revoke the security clearance of a DUI driver, wherever their offense occurs.  


Which Laws Govern Federal DUIs? 


Federal DUI offenses are governed by the federal law found in Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations, § 4.23. In contrast, Florida state DUI offenses are dictated by Florida state law, notably the Florida Statutes § 316.193. 


The federal law prohibiting DUI on federal property is very similar to Florida state law. 


  • Both federal and state law require proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the following elements: 
  • the driver must be operating or in actual physical control of the motor vehicle, 
  • the driver must be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and 
  • to the degree that they are unable to safely operate a motor vehicle. 
  • Both federal and state laws cite a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.08 or higher to be the threshold for drivers to be considered as DUI. 
  • Both federal and state laws permit a DUI conviction even without a breathalyzer or blood test result if enough other admissible evidence or witness observations comprise proof of guilt. 

How do Federal DUI Penalties Compare with Florida DUI Penalties?


  • Federal DUI first offenders face penalties that include up to:  
    • 6 months incarceration
    • up to $5,000 in fines
    • license suspension of up to 3 years 
    • and probation of up to 5 years 
    • other probation conditions within the judge’s discretion, DUI education, community service, etc. 
    • No right to a jury trial in a first-offender DUI case; a U.S. Magistrate Judge will determine guilt.  


  • Florida DUI first-time offenders can be sentenced to:  
    • up to 6 months in jail
    • fines from $500 and $1,000
    • license suspension for up to 6 months 
    • probation for up to 1 year 
    • mandatory 50 hours of community service
    • First-offender DUI defendants do have the right to a jury trial


Procedural Differences 


The judicial and prosecutorial procedures in federal and state DUI cases are different. Federal DUI cases can be prioritized differently by federal prosecutors depending on the circumstances. If a DUI charge involves a member of the armed forces who was cited for an incident on a military base, their base privileges may be suspended pending the outcome of the case.  


Rights of the Accused: In both jurisdictions, drivers accused of DUI are entitled to similar rights, including the right to counsel, the right against self-incrimination, and the right to a trial. However, the exact procedures for ensuring these rights can differ between federal and state systems. 


Defense to Federal DUI and State DUI Charges 


An experienced DUI defense lawyer is imperative for any driver charged with DUI, whether they are charged in federal or state court. With the benefit of years of in-court practice defending DUI charges, DUI defense lawyers have a deeper understanding and a finer mastery of the laws that apply to these particular charges. 


  • Was there reasonable suspicion to stop the driver? 
  • Did the officer observe any telltale signs of intoxication during the initial interaction with the driver? 
  • Did those observations support their decision to ask the driver to perform field sobriety tests? 
  • Were the field sobriety tests administered according to the manual’s protocols? 
  • Did the officer provide proper instructions and demonstrations? 
  • Were the lighting, road surface, and weather conditions appropriate for the tests? 
  • Did the officer advise the driver of their rights at the scene? 
  • Was there probable cause to arrest the driver? 
  • Was any breathalyzer or other chemical test performed according to the law? 


Understanding the distinctions between a federal DUI and a Florida state DUI is important if you or a family member are charged in either court.  


Partner with Stechschulte Nell Law for DUI Defense 


If faced with a DUI charge, whether at the federal or state level, it’s essential to consult with a skilled DUI defense lawyer who is familiar with the specific jurisdiction’s nuances.


Reach out to the adept DUI defense lawyers at Stechschulte Nell in Tampa by calling 813-280-1244. Your initial consultation is a crucial step toward understanding your situation and exploring viable defense strategies. 

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