While driving while impaired is normally a state crime, when the offense occurs on federal property, such as a military base like Fort Bragg, federal jurisdiction controls and the case will be prosecuted in Federal District Court.
Fort Bragg is the largest piece of federal property in North Carolina (outside of the national parks), and so, consistent with the assimilation act – 18 USC 13 – state laws are incorporated and applied in the prosecution of any state crimes on the base.
While the substantive law of North Carolina – N.C.G.S. Sec. 20-138.1 – applies, federal criminal procedure and federal sentencing law govern the disposition of the case.
In other words, the court looks to the state law in determining whether a DWI occurred, but then looks to federal procedural and sentencing statutes to determine how the trial will be conducted and how the defendant, if convicted, will be punished.
Where Do I Go
If charged off-base but in Fayetteville, you would go to court for a DWI in Cumberland County District Court. But on-base prosecutions will be handled in Federal District Court, normally held in Fayetteville in the federal courthouse that shares space with the United States Post Office at 301 Green Street. Sometimes the court sits in Raleigh. Check your paperwork carefully.
Enter through the back, and go through the metal detectors before heading upstairs to the courtroom on the third floor. Simple traffic tickets are handled by lining up outside the courtroom to talk to a prosecutor.
When Do I Go
Magistrate judges usually preside at misdemeanor court which is held during the first week of every month. While the docket indicates that court begins at 8:00, the judge usually doesn’t open the session until 9:00 or 10:00 am. Unlike state court where a defendant can sometimes easily get a missed court date corrected, federal practice is stricter, and on-time attendance is required.
Unless you have an attorney who advises otherwise, arrive at 8:00.
What Will Happen?
Most misdemeanor charges do not result in jail time in federal court, unless you have a substantial criminal record or the facts are egregious.
And especially in DWI cases, a magistrate judge will generally impose a standard Level 5 or Level 4 judgment as it would be applied in state court if a person were convicted there. The one difference is that there is no unsupervised probation in federal court. Probation will always be supervised by the United States Probation Office.
At the first court court, people will be advised of the charges, and advised of their right to a court appointed lawyer. If the case can be resolved on that court date, the court will take pleas where applicable.
If the case cannot be resolved, it will be continued to a later court date to allow the defendant to meet with his or her client, and to learn more about possible defenses and outcomes.
At a subsequent court dates, a defendant can plead guilty. If the penalty for the criminal offense does not exceed 6 months, a defendant will have a bench trial in front of a Magistrate Judge unless the defendant wishes to have a District Court Judge preside.
A bench trial is a trial without a jury where a magistrate judge hears evidence, decides guilt or innocence, and ultimately sentences.
If a defendant pleads guilty, a bench trial can take 1 to 6 months to schedule depending on the size of the court’s docket. A bench trial will normally be conducted in the Raleigh courthouse on New Bern Avenue.
Outcome of a DWI
A defendant is well-advised to complete community service and treatment prior to resolving a federal DWI even if the person believes their DWI will result in a not-guilty. Because there is no automatic appeal for a trial de novo, additional time is not available to complete these requirements and judges look favorably upon completion of these requirements.
Generally, unless the DWI involves egregious facts, a defendant will not be penalized for demanding a bench trial.
How Long Will My Case Take?
A federal misdemeanor begins with a first appearance, followed by an arraignment that usually occurs between four and six months later. At the arraignment, a person declares whether they are guilty or not guilty as to each charge. If a person declares himself guilty, sentencing in misdemeanors normally occurs immediately after.
If a person declares himself not-guilty, a trial date will be set either by the judge immediately, or by order of the court through the court’s CM/ECF electronic filing system. Pre-trial motions deadlines will be set.
If a defendant passes arraignment before a particular judge, that judge is normally the judge who will hear the trial.