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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

April 24, 2018



          John A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on appeal of the United States Magistrate Judge's decision denying the defendant's motion to dismiss. On May 5, 2017, the government charged defendant Tevin A. Williams with driving under the influence ("DUI") on Fort Lee. Williams moved to dismiss the charge, arguing that the federal court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to prosecute him for violating Virginia's DUI law. (Dk. No. 8.) The Magistrate Judge denied the motion. (Dk. No. 19.) Williams then pled guilty, but reserved the right to appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss.

         The Court finds that the Uniform Code of Military Justice ("UCMJ") does not preempt assimilating Virginia's DUI statute into federal law. Thus, the government properly prosecuted the defendant in federal court for this offense, and the Court affirms the decision of the Magistrate Judge.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The government charged Williams, a member of the United States Army, with DUI under the Assimilative Crimes Act ("ACA"). 18 U.S.C. § 13. The ACA assimilates Virginia Code § 18.2-266, the Commonwealth of Virginia's DUI statute, into federal law. Under the government's theory, since the case charged a crime under the ACA, this Court has jurisdiction to hear the case. Williams moved to dismiss, arguing that the UCMJ preempts the ACA from assimilating Virginia Code § 18.2-266. He contended, therefore, that the government could not properly charge him in this Court.

         The Magistrate Judge denied the motion to dismiss. Williams pled guilty, pursuant to a conditional plea agreement that preserved his right to appeal the jurisdictional question to this Court. He has now appealed the denial of his motion to dismiss.


         A defendant may appeal a magistrate judge's decision to a district judge pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 58(g)(2)(B). "The defendant is not entitled to a trial de novo by a district judge. The scope of the appeal is the same as in an appeal to the court of appeals from a judgment entered by a district judge." Fed. R. Crim. P. 58(g)(2)(D). District courts review questions of law on appeal de novo. United States v. Masciandaro, 648 F.Supp.2d 779, 783 (E.D. Va. 2009) (citing United States v. Bursey, 416 F.3d 301, 306 (4th Cir. 2005)). Since Williams raises a purely legal question, this Court will review the Magistrate Judge's decision de novo.


         A Fourth Circuit case directly addresses the issue that the defendant raises in his appeal: whether the UCMJ preempts assimilating Virginia's DUI statute under the ACA. United States v. Walker, 552 F.2d 566 (4th Cir. 1977). Walker determined that the UCMJ is not a generally applicable law and thus does not preempt ACA assimilation of Virginia's statute. Id. at 568 n.3. Williams argues that a more recent Supreme Court case, Lewis v. United States, creates a new test for ACA assimilation that impliedly overrules Walker. 523 U.S. 155 (1998). The Court disagrees. Walker remains good law and applies to this case. Moreover, even if the Court applied the test set forth in Lewis, the outcome of this appeal would not change, as the UCMJ still would not preempt ACA assimilation.

         A. Applicable Law

         The ACA adopts state law to apply on federal enclaves for crimes that "any enactment of Congress" does not otherwise cover. 18 U.S.C. § 13(a). Congress passed the ACA in the early years of the republic to fill gaps that existed in federal criminal law at the time. Lewis, 523 U.S. at 160-61. The ACA also created uniformity in criminal law between a given state and the federal enclaves situated inside of that state. United States v. Dotson, 615 F.3d 1162, 1165 (9th Cir. 2010). The ACA assimilated into federal law Virginia Code § 18.2-266, making it a federal crime to drive under the influence on federal land in Virginia.

         The UCMJ contains a broad variety of criminal prohibitions that apply only to military personnel. United States v. Joshua, 607 F.3d 379, 383 (4th Cir. 2010). Civilian courts do not punish violations of the UCMJ; rather, military courts-martial resolve all violations. United States v. Mariea, 795 F.2d 1094, 1100-01 (1st Cir. 1986). The civilian criminal code and UCMJ are "distinct bodies of criminal law[J...enforced by different prosecutorial and court systems." Joshua, 607 F.3d at 383. Pertinent to this case, the UCMJ includes a punishment for driving under the influence. 10 U.S.C. § 911.

         As noted above, the Fourth Circuit has already decided this very issue in a case involving military personnel driving under the influence on a military base. Walker, 552 F.2d at 567. In Walker, the defendant argued that the UCMJ's drunk driving provisions precluded charging military personnel with DUI in federal district court. Id. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, holding that the federal government could charge and convict active ...

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