Federal DUI Law: Defenses for Cases in National Parks

federal dui charge at national park

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense that can have lasting consequences, and when it comes to national parks, the stakes can be even higher. Getting arrested for a DUI in a national park can result in federal charges, potential jail time, and a tarnished criminal record. This is why it is important to have a strong defense strategy in place to protect your rights and minimize the impact of these charges on your life.


At Kolsrud Law Offices, our team of skilled lawyers has extensive experience defending clients against federal DUI charges. We understand the complexities of these cases and will work tirelessly to provide you with the best possible defense.


Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can help you.

Are Crimes in National Parks Treated Differently Than Those Outside the Parks?

Crimes committed within national parks are indeed treated differently than those occurring outside such areas.


This distinction primarily stems from the fact that national parks are federal properties, and therefore, any criminal activities within these territories fall under federal jurisdiction, not state or local.


This includes driving under the influence (DUI), which, when it happens inside a national park, becomes a federal offense. Unlike state offenses, which are prosecuted under state laws, offenses in national parks are governed by federal laws, specifically under the regulations stated in 36 CFR Part 4.


This part of the Code of Federal Regulations implements state traffic laws on federal lands but enforces them through federal penalties and procedures. Consequently, cases of DUI within national parks are processed and adjudicated in federal courts with penalties that might be more severe than those typically imposed under state law

national park rangers

Who Can Charge You With a Federal DUI

National Park Service Rangers, who are sworn federal officers, have the legal power to enforce federal laws, including those pertaining to driving under the influence.


These rangers perform duties similar to those of police officers but on federal lands, ensuring compliance with federal statutes. In instances where a DUI is detected, these rangers can issue citations and make arrests under federal law.


Additionally, these officers often collaborate with state and local law enforcement agencies, especially if the incident involves access roads to the park that may be under state jurisdiction. Despite this cooperation, the primary authority in cases of DUI within national parks remains with federal officers, and any prosecutions will proceed in federal courts.

What are Federal DUI Charges and Penalties

Federal DUI charges in national parks are generally prosecuted under two key pieces of legislation:


  1. 36 CFR 4.23: This regulation prohibits operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs on federal lands. It defines impairment using the state's legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit where the national park is located, typically 0.08% for most states.
  2. Assimilative Crimes Act: This act allows federal prosecutors to utilize state DUI statutes in the absence of an applicable federal law for specific details of the DUI offense, such as BAC levels, presence of minors in the vehicle, or damage caused while driving under the influence.


Penalties for Federal DUI Offenses

The penalties for a federal DUI are influenced by the specifics of the offense and can include:

  1. Fines: The base fine for a first-time federal DUI can range from $500 to $5,000. However, fines can increase based on factors like repeated offenses or higher BAC levels at the time of arrest.
  2. Imprisonment: For a first-time offense, imprisonment might range from a few days to six months. For repeat offenders, or if the DUI resulted in injury or death, the imprisonment can be significantly longer, potentially years, depending on the severity and circumstances of the incident.
  3. License Suspension: The offender’s driving privileges on federal lands can be revoked immediately. Furthermore, federal authorities may notify state DMVs, which can then impose their own state-specific driving suspensions.
  4. Probation: Federal DUI offenders may be placed on probation for up to five years, during which they must comply with various conditions such as no further law violations, mandatory attendance in treatment programs, and regular check-ins with a probation officer.
  5. Mandatory Treatment Programs: Offenders are typically required to undergo alcohol education and treatment programs. Failure to complete such programs can result in additional penalties or an extension of probation.
  6. Community Service: Judges may also require offenders to complete a certain amount of community service hours, contributing to community work as part of their rehabilitation.


Additional Considerations

  • Enhanced Penalties: If the DUI involves aggravating factors like reckless driving, causing bodily injury, or prior DUI convictions, the penalties can be significantly enhanced.
  • Impact on Employment: A federal DUI conviction may affect a person’s current employment, particularly if they are employed in sensitive positions or by the federal government, and can impact future job prospects.

Legal representation by attorneys experienced in federal DUI cases can help create an effective defense and potentially mitigate the harsh penalties associated with a federal DUI conviction. 

Contact us today to schedule a
how we can help you.

How is a Federal DUI Different from a State DUI Charge

A DUI charge within a national park leads to prosecution under federal law, which differs significantly from a state DUI charge in several key aspects:


  1. Legal Framework and Prosecution: Federal DUI charges are governed by the Code of Federal Regulations and the Assimilative Crimes Act, which often incorporates state DUI laws into federal prosecutions when no specific federal law exists. However, the procedural aspects, including how the case is handled and prosecuted, adhere strictly to federal rules.

  2. Court System: Unlike state DUIs that are tried in state or local courts, federal DUI cases are adjudicated in U.S. District Courts. This means the judge, prosecution, and sometimes even the legal proceedings follow federal protocols, which can be more formal and stringent than state court processes.

  3. Penalties and Sentencing: The penalties for a federal DUI can be more severe than those for a state DUI. Federal convictions might result in higher fines, longer imprisonment terms, and more extensive DUI education programs. The federal system does not always offer the same alternatives that states might, such as diversion programs or sentence mitigation options commonly available in state courts.

  4. Implications for Criminal Record: A federal DUI conviction goes on a person’s federal criminal record, which can have broader implications than a state record, affecting federal employment, future background checks, and even international travel more significantly.

  5. Enforcement Officials: As mentioned, enforcement is carried out by federal officers (e.g., National Park Service Rangers) rather than state or local police. This change in enforcement agency can impact the nature of the arrest, the investigative procedures, and the resources available for prosecution.

dui at the grand canyon

What National Parks in Arizona Could I Be Charged with a Federal DUI at

In Arizona, several national parks fall under federal jurisdiction where you could potentially be charged with a federal DUI if you're found driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These parks are managed by the National Park Service, and any DUI offenses within these areas are subject to federal laws and penalties.

  • Grand Canyon National Park

    • As one of the most famous national parks globally, the Grand Canyon sees millions of visitors each year. The vast network of roads within the park, including the popular Desert View Drive, are patrolled by Park Rangers who enforce federal DUI laws..

  • Saguaro National Park

    • Located near Tucson, this park is known for its large saguaro cacti. The roads through both the Tucson Mountain (West) District and the Rincon Mountain (East) District are federal lands where federal DUI laws apply.

  • Petrified Forest National Park

    • This park, known for its fossilized trees, also includes sections of the historic Route 66. Federal DUI laws are enforceable throughout the park's roadways, which are monitored by federal officers.

  • Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

    • This lesser-known gem near the Mexico border features a scenic drive through desert landscapes. Rangers patrol the park's roads, ensuring compliance with federal DUI regulations.

  • Tonto National Monument

    • While smaller and less frequented, this park still falls under federal jurisdiction and its roads are subject to the same federal DUI statutes as larger parks.

  • Chiricahua National Monument

    • Known for its extensive rock formations, the scenic roads of Chiricahua are patrolled by federal law enforcement who can enforce DUI laws under federal statutes.

Get Help From a Federal Defense Attorney

If you’re dealing with a federal DUI charge from a situation in a national park, like the Grand Canyon, it’s important to have a lawyer who knows what they're doing. Josh Kolsrud at Kolsrud Law Offices has a lot of experience in this area, with a background as both a state and federal prosecutor.


He's taken on over 100 trials and handled more than 3,500 cases.


For more details on how Josh Kolsrud can assist with your case, or to schedule a free initial consultation, you can contact him directly at the Kolsrud Law Offices. He is available via phone at (602) 638-3790.

An award-winning criminal defense attorney Since 2006

Why Choose Josh Kolsrud

With over 100 trials to his name, and years of experience as a state and federal prosecutor, Josh understands the law, the legal process, and your rights. Josh is also committed to representing every client with utmost integrity and dedication



Josh has prosecuted major crimes on the state and federal level, led a successful anti-human sex trafficking operation that saved lives, and argued before countless juries and justices for his clients



Josh is an expert in both Arizona and federal criminal law, and is ready to put that expertise to work for you.



As a prosecutor, Josh saw far too many defendants lose their livelihood due to poor representation. Josh will always give every client his complete attention and effort

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