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What to expect at your initial appearance for a federal DWI

On Behalf of | Jan 11, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Many people think that all drunk driving charges will be heard in a state court, and that is where most drunk driving cases are resolved. However, when a person is stopped for drunk driving on federal property, such as Fort Bragg, those cases go through the federal court system. The federal system is a different jurisdiction and people facing federal charges need to be aware of these differences. In a Federal DWI, it is best to be represented by an attorney familiar with the federal court system.

Federal DWI charges apply to driving that occurs on federally owned land, such as military installations like Fort Bragg, or national forests and park areas. Some airports and airfields are also considered federal lands. If you’re charged with drunk driving as a federal offense, you need an attorney familiar with that particular jurisdiction. For example, if you are charged with DWI on Fort Bragg, here’s what you should know about your first court appearance before the United States Magistrate Judge.

What will happen at the first court hearing?

The initial court hearing before the United States Magistrate Judge tends to be very short. However, the process in the court can take several hours, depending on the docket. Once in front of the Magistrate Judge, you will be told the charges that you are facing and also be told of your rights. Unless the government requests that you remain in custody, you will generally be released on conditions. Shortly after you enter the courtroom, the clerk will provide you with the court’s standard conditions of release for you to review. This will ordinarily include the surrender of your license for 30 days. You will not be permitted to drive for 30 days following your initial appearance. After 30 days, your license can be mailed back to you or to your attorney, and you will be able to drive in North Carolina. Remember, you still cannot drive on Fort Bragg. The Fort Bragg Garrison Commander will ordinarily revoke your privilege to drive on Fort Bragg once you are charged. The return of your license does not affect the order of the Garrison Commander. Only the Garrison commander can give you the right to drive on Fort Bragg.

You will also be told that you have the right to have legal counsel and the right to plead not guilty and go to trial. Individuals who meet certain qualifications will be able to have a federal public defender appointed to their case instead of retaining their own counsel. If you have a privately retained attorney, he or she will generally stand with you during the initial appearance and communicate with the Judge on your behalf. In most situations, your case will be continued.

The Magistrate Judge will give you information about your next court date. If you’re conditionally released from custody, you must ensure you’re at the next court hearing. If you have an attorney, he or she will give you further instructions. In the interim, you should begin to prepare your defense strategy with your attorney.

Make sure you understand your rights and the options you have for your defense. While federal DWI charges are typically misdemeanors, they can still significantly impact your life, and they are handled differently than state cases. If you are in the military, you will also face other military consequences. Working with an attorney who can help you navigate through the federal court system as well as the military justice system can be extremely helpful.