Background – Law enforcement in Yellowstone and Grand Teton

Wyoming is blessed with two great national parks: Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Yellowstone claims over 3 million visits a year, while Grand Teton records more than 2.5 million visits. Many visitors camp at one of the park campgrounds or stay at a lodge. It is inevitable that visitors will celebrate, DUIs will occur, and that law enforcement will be there.

Because both parks are federal land, they are patrolled by federal law enforcement. Typically, law enforcement is a national park ranger, although there are also special agents who handle serious felony investigations.

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Applicable DUI Laws

Congress has empowered the Secretary of the Interior to regulate federal land, including the national parks. The Department of the Interior has promulgated the rules governing DUI and traffic offenses. The DUI rules are found at 36 CFR 4.23.

A person is guilty of DUI in a national park if they are operating or in physical control of a motor vehicle and:

  1. Under the influence of alcohol or drugs to a degree that renders them incapable of safe operation; or
  2. Have a BAC of .08 or more.

A person can be charged with a separate crime for refusing to take a breath test administered by an authorized operator. If a person refuses to take a breath test, it is likely that the ranger will ban that person from driving in the national park for one year. Additionally, if a person is found guilty of the refusal, the state that issued their driver’s license may suspend their license. If that is your situation, you are advised to talk to an attorney as the specifics of your situation may vary.

Legal Procedure

Because a DUI in a National Park is a federal crime, the defendant is charged in federal court and prosecuted by an Assistant United States Attorney. For crimes occurring in Yellowstone, the federal court is at the Yellowstone Justice Center in Mammoth, Wyoming. For crimes occurring in Grand Teton, the federal court is at the Clifford P. Hansen Courthouse in Jackson, Wyoming.

In either situation, the case will be heard before a Magistrate Judge. Generally, the defendant does not have the right to a jury trial. Typically, there are only one or two days of court hearings per month. While the defendant’s presence is sometimes required, it is not always necessary for the defendant to attend the court hearing in person. An experienced attorney can advise you about your situation.

Potential Consequences

A DUI in any national park is a misdemeanor. The maximum jail sentence is 6 months and the maximum fine is $5,000. Probation can extend for up to 5 years. The Court almost always requires an alcohol evaluation and treatment. Additional terms can include community service and an ignition interlock device. Proof of completion of all terms is required for the Court to release a defendant from probation. Failure to attend court hearings, pay fines, complete treatment or probation can all result in a federal warrant for the defendant’s arrest. A federal warrant is a serious matter and is likely to result in the defendant being held in jail pending an appearance before a federal magistrate judge.