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Federal Misdemeanors

Why is my misdemeanor in federal court?

In this area, federal property is everywhere. With many military bases such as Fort Belvoir, Fort Myer, or Quantico, among others; federal roads such as the George Washington Memorial Parkway; and other sites such as Arlington National Cemetery, the CIA, and the Pentagon; federal property is hard to avoid. Federal misdemeanors occur when a crime is either a federal offense itself, or it is a state misdemeanor committed on federal property. Federal misdemeanors are charged either by the Code of Federal Regulations, which means it is a substantive federal crime, or through the Assimilative Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 13. The Assimilative Crimes Act states that “state law applicable to conduct occurring on lands reserved or acquired by the federal government as provided in 18 U.S.C. § 7(3), when the act or omission is not made punishable by an enactment of Congress.” 

Some common federal misdemeanors include:

Speeding on the George Washington Memorial Parkway

Reckless Driving on the GW Parkway

Running a stop sign at the Pentagon

Running a red light on Fort Belvoir

DUI on Pentagon or GW Parkway

Possession of marijuana on the Daingerfield island

Possession of marijuana on the Pentagon

Carrying a weapon on the Pentagon

Carrying a weapon on a military base

 Almost all federal misdemeanor offenses are handled by United States Magistrate Judges who are authorized by statute to impose sentences up to one year imprisonment. Class A misdemeanors in federal court are subject to the same maximum 12 months in jail, as Virginia state Class 1 misdemeanors. The cases are prosecuted either by Assistant United States Attorneys, or Special Assistant United States Attorneys. The Special Assistant United States Attorneys are attorneys who work for the federal government and are usually temporarily detailed to the United States Attorneys office. For misdemeanors that occur on the military bases, often a Judge Advocate General (JAG) attorney will represent the government in the U.S. District Court as a Special Assistant United States Attorney.

What are the penalties for a misdemeanor in Federal court?

Penalties for the same offense may be different in federal versus state court. For example, in Virginia state court DUI or DWI offenses may carry mandatory minimum jail sentences. In federal court, however, these mandatory minimums may be imposed differently than through straight incarceration. A U.S. District Magistrate Judge has discretion to sentence a defendant to home confinement rather than incarceration on a mandatory minimum DUI offense. Additionally, the while the State of Virginia has the authority to suspend a Virginia driver's license, the federal Government does not. Therefore, rather that a “restricted license,” a defendant may find himself subject to “restricted driving privileges” that are conditions of probation. Of course, the federal court is free to notify the Virginia DMV of the conviction, and the Virginia DMV may take its own action, but the federal court itself, cannot suspend or restrict a Virginia driver's license. Federal probation programs utilize ASAP classes and drug treatment similar to Virginia probation offices. Importantly, federal courts do not typically align with state courts for deferred dispositions. Deferred disposition options that may be available to a defendant in a state court may not be available in a federal court and vice versa.

Federal misdemeanor offenses are categorized by “class:”

Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to 12 months imprisonment

Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months imprisonment

Class C misdemeanors are punishable by up to 30 days imprisonment

Five days imprisonment or less, or if no imprisonment is authorized, qualifies as an infraction

 If you are charged with a federal misdemeanor offense, you want an attorney with federal experience, who is familiar with the differences between federal and state court. An attorney who typically handles only state misdemeanors may not be aware of other options presented in United States District Court. Contact the experienced attorneys at Harris Carmichael & Ellis for your initial free consultation to see what options you may have available on your federal misdemeanor case.

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