If you drive drunk, you do not want to get stopped by law enforcement on federal property. You will most likely end up in federal court rather than the local municipal court for a traffic offense. That could be bad news for you. Once you are in the federal criminal system, you could be up against notoriously tough prosecutors and laws. For that reason, a criminal defense attorney with extensive federal court experience is a must when you have been charged with a crime on federal property in New Jersey. You need a strong advocate who knows how to deal with stringent laws and prosecutors who have the upper hand, someone who is familiar with both state and federal laws, rules, and systems.
The state and federal systems overlap in some areas, for instance, when a state law is violated on federal property. As a defendant charged with a state law violation, you will probably be tried in federal court using either state or federal law and federal rules and procedures. Because federal law is more stringent, you may need to present strong evidence to challenge the charges and be acquitted of the crime. Fines are typically higher in federal court too, compared to state court, and federal prison sentences are longer and harsher than state sentences.
Why are Charges Worse when on Federal Land in NJ?
One reason the punishment is tougher for crimes committed on federal property may be that federal lands contain dangerous or protected items that would cause harm to the federal government if trespassed, such as buildings that contain confidential files or dangerous chemicals sitting in underground storage. Drunk driving on federal property constitutes just such a threat to federal property, but other crimes too, like trespassing, vandalism, and reckless driving. Likewise, crimes committed on military forts and bases, government buildings or parking lots, national parks and forests, airports and courthouses lead to federal charges, whether the crime is a state violation or a specific federal law violation, and the stricter penalties reflect the necessity to protect federal property. However, any crime that can be committed on state property can be committed on federal property, like theft, lewdness, obstruction of law, criminal mischief, terroristic threats, drug distribution or possession, or DWI/DUI for operating a motor vehicle or vessel while under the influence.
Charged with DWI on Federal Property in New Jersey
When an officer stops you for drunk driving on federal property, such as at a federal park, in a national forest, or on a military base, like McGuire Air Force Base, you may be charged under federal laws for breaking state laws against offenses like DUI. Since there is no drunk driving federal law, the state law is “assimilated,” by the Federal Assimilative Crimes Act, or made part of the federal law, and you are charged for a federal crime. So, what would have been a traffic infraction on non-federal property is an offense on federal property, with a harsher sentence.
For example, if you were caught driving while intoxicated in a national park, such as Sandy Hook National Park, or a military base like McGuire Air Force Base, or another eligible location such as Picatinny Arsenal, you may be subject to federal prosecution as opposed to typical state prosecution. If the offense does not exist explicitly according to existing federal law, the case will be determined by state law as assimilated into federal law. A DUI in a national park may lead to a sentence of six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.00. In contrast, state sentences typically do not include jail time for first DWI offenses but could result in up to 30 days in county jail, just to lend some perspective on how severe federal sentences are compared to state sentences. And if your DUI occurred on a military base, you may face additional military charges on top of the federal and state charges. It makes a difference whether federal or state law determines your outcome.
Laws Governing Federal Crimes in NJ
The laws that govern federal cases are United States Code and the Code of Federal Regulations, which define federal crimes. Federal Agencies, however, have their own sets of laws that define certain crimes. The Justice Department, for instance, handles federal cases, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigate crimes committed on federal property or any federal crime. The United States Attorney’s office prosecutes federal crimes, following the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence. Federal crimes are not limited to agency rules and laws, however. They are also those committed on specific places designated as U.S. territories or on certain bodies of water, like the Great Lakes, or airspace over the high seas, or any other places outside national borders or pertaining to aircraft, like crimes in an airplane flying over U.S. territory.
Who Hears Federal Cases when they Happen in Morris County?
Federal cases are heard by federal judges or magistrates of the United States District Courts. However, the U.S. military handles court martials in military courts. Magistrates handle petty offenses, those with maximum fines of $5,000.00 and a maximum prison sentence of six months, though they may have federal misdemeanors delegated to them from federal judges with the defendant’s consent. Federal misdemeanors carry prison sentences up to a year and fines of up to $250,000.00, and magistrates preside over petty offenses or misdemeanor cases in various locations, not just where federal judges in Trenton, Camden, and Newark usually hear cases.
Common Criminal & DUI Offenses on Federal Property
You may be charged and prosecuted in New Jersey after a specific federal department has gathered evidence. The federal law enforcement departments at Fort Dix, Fort Monmouth, Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook and Fort Hancock, and the United States Park Service, Picatinny Arsenal, Naval Weapons Station Earle, and Lakehurst Naval Air Station may be the source of the criminal complaint against you, depending upon where you were caught committing a crime on federal property. Essentially, DWI/DUI, refusal charges, traffic offenses, and other state criminal charges, become federal crimes just by where they are committed. And Title 18, section 13 of the U.S. Code covers crimes occurring within a state but on federal property. As previously mentioned, the laws of the state crimes and their interpretations are used in these cases.
Federal courts typically handle federal crimes, like drug, immigration, fraud, trafficking, money laundering, weapons, conspiracy, kidnapping across state lines, bank robbery crimes, organized crime (RICO statutes), white collar crimes, as well as those committed against federal employees or on federal property. Crimes on government property, such as bank fraud, bank robbery, conspiracy cases, counterfeiting, bribery of public official, computer crimes, Homeland Security Offenses, offenses related to interstate commerce, violent crimes, internet crimes, interstate crimes, pornography, and drug smuggling are prosecuted as federal crimes. When sentencing a defendant for any of these and other federal and state crimes, judges and prosecutors consider the nature of the offense, circumstances of the offense, criminal history, deterrence, respect for the law, public protection, rehabilitation of the defendant, sentence guidelines, and judicial consistency.
Consult a Defense Lawyer in Morristown if You Have been Arrested on Federal Lands
Whether you have allegedly committed a state or federal crime on federal property, you are going to need a good attorney to show that your history and good standing as a citizen, as well as your respect for the law, qualifies you for a lighter sentence, at the very least. The federal government is better resourced than state courts, so prosecutors can take cases to trial rather than plea bargain. In addition, the rules of procedure in federal court are skewed toward the prosecution with bail and pre-trial release much more difficult than in state court. Federal prosecutors are not as overworked so they can spend more time and be tougher on your case, so enlisting help from a highly skilled NJ federal court defense attorney to assist you with your case is absolutely advisable. A knowledgeable federal charge lawyer can often ensure that you are dealt with fairly in federal court and possibly prove to the prosecutor and judge that you did not commit the crime charged or deserve a lighter sentence. And if the circumstances call for negotiation with the prosecution, your attorney can help you negotiate a plea bargain to avoid trial and the worst case scenario. Receive a free consultation by contacting us today.