Generally speaking, most criminal offenses occur at the level of the state, meaning the offense in question violates state law, and a state court will hand down any applicable sentence. However, some offenses are dealt with by federal courts, and it’s not always immediately obvious which one applies to a given case.
Depending on various different circumstances, a particular offense might be a federal matter rather than a state crime. This distinction can have important implications for you as a defendant.
So, is a Minnesota DWI a federal offense, or a state offense?
The Difference Between Federal & State Crimes
The United States Code sets out all federal government laws, so any violation of the laws contained therein is considered a federal crime. Federal government agencies, like the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, are the organizations responsible for investigating federal offenses.
When federal courts hand out prison sentences, convicts must serve these terms in federal prisons, rather than state institutions.
Many offenses (including intoxicated driving offenses) are illegal under both federal and state laws. In cases like these, different factors (including the geography and the severity of the act in question) dictate whether the matter should go to a federal or state court.
Some offenses (typically those that directly interfere with the interests of the US government and its related agencies) are specific to federal law. These include:
- Crimes that take place on federal lands, such as Indian reservations or national parklands;
- Offenses that take place in multiple states, or involve travel between states;
- Actions that directly affect an agent of the federal government, such as an assault on an FBI agent;
- Fraud and similar offenses targeting the federal government, like Social Security fraud;
- Customs or immigration violations, such as smuggling people or illicit items into the United States from abroad.
Generally, the penalties for federal offenses will be far more severe than those for state crimes, particularly for drug offenses. Also, due to the massive resources of the federal government, defending cases at the federal level can be a lot more difficult.
When Is a DWI a Federal Offense?
Under Minnesota law, it’s a crime to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more, and certain categories of drivers can get DWI charges for driving at lower levels of intoxication. If a police officer stops your car and arrests you in relation to an intoxicated driving offense in Minnesota, chances are they’re doing so under state law.
Like Minnesota state law, federal law prohibits driving with a blood alcohol concentration higher than 0.08%. It also outlaws driving under the influence of intoxicating drugs, whether they’re used for medical or recreational purposes. Generally, however, the federal government will not prosecute a DWI or DUI offense unless the intoxicated driving took place on federal lands, such as government buildings, military bases, nature reserves, or areas around some important monuments.
If you damage some item of federal government property while driving drunk, that is also a matter for federal policing authorities. Because this kind of property is usually highly sensitive, dangerous, or valuable, penalties for causing damage to it are often severe.
As is the case with other types of offenses, penalties for federal DWI convictions are usually harsher than those occurring at the level of the state.
Protecting Yourself From a DWI Charge, Whether State or Federal
Most DWI charges will be for the state courts. However, regardless of whether the charge occurs at the federal or state level, getting an experienced Minnesota DWI lawyer on your side is a crucial first step toward ensuring the best possible outcome for you.
Contact us today for a free initial review of your DWI case.