Areas of Practice | Military Law
Life in the military will change dramatically once you find yourself labeled an accused or in trouble with your command. You will definitely be treated differently. Many servicemembers believe that they are presumed guilty and that the trial or the nonjudicial punishment is held just to memorialize the outcome. This belief is unfortunate and opposite of how the system really works. However, I must admit that it certainly appears accurate based on the comments and actions taken by noncommissioned officers, leaders and the military attorneys that work within the system.
As a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel with 22 years of experience, I know how the military operates. Starting out as an infantry officer, I understand the challenges you face on a daily basis to excel in your job. With over 17 years of legal experience, mainly serving as a prosecutor, defense counsel and judge, I intimately know the entire system that you have to go through from all angles. With so much at stake for you, there is not a better person to guide you through this process. Below are some of the areas where an experienced attorney can make a difference in your life.
A court-martial will be the most frightening challenge, short of war, you may have to face. By the time your situation is referred to a court-martial, it will have been reviewed and investigated by many people. If the Command believes the misconduct is serious, you will be ordered to appear before an Article 32, Pretrial Investigation. This investigation is similar to a grand jury or preliminary hearing in the civilian criminal justice system. During the Article 32, you get to be present, question the witnesses testifying in support of the military, call witnesses and present evidence on your on behalf and can testify or make an unsworn statement if you desire.
During the actual court-martial, you will have to make decisions on whether you want to be tried by the military judge alone or if you want a court-martial panel made up of members of your command and if you want to testify under oath to tell your story. Other decisions that must be made are determining what defenses may be used to defend you, what witnesses to call and who you should try to excuse as members. These are all significant decisions that will impact the final result. You need me there to explain your rights and help you make the right decision giving your case the best chances for success.
Besides a court-martial, there are numerous administrative hearings that can end your career and for certain service members that have licensing requirements your ability to perform your job as a civilian.
An administrative separation board for enlisted personnel and a board of inquiry for an officer are hearings used to separate service members for a variety of reasons. Besides forcing you out of the service, the hearing can result in an other than honorable characterization of service. This type of hearing has limited procedural rules and the Rules of Military Evidence do not apply. The person representing the command will likely have a significant amount of experience in conducting these hearings. The members of the board are picked by the separation authority. The deck is stacked against you. You must have someone beside you that gives you a fighting chance before the local command and with the separation authority.
Competency Review Board
If you have committed minor misconduct and the Commander wants to take your rank, a competency review board is a mechanism at his disposal. Similar challenges concerning the Command's representative and members being selected by the Commander make this an uphill battle. You need an experienced litigator to fight for your rank and prevent the loss of pay that would accompany a reduction in grade.
Pilots, health care providers and lawyers all must maintain licenses to perform their jobs. Some of these licenses are issued by State licensing agencies. Work related performance and certain personal behaviors can result in the Command taking action to suspend your license. When this happens, most State licensing agencies have the requirement that you notify them also of your license being suspended. Your livelihood in and out of the service are much to important to risk not having someone qualified to represent you in these situations.
If you suffer a severe injury that makes you unable to perform your job or makes you unqualified for further service, a physical evaluation board will be held. This board will determine whether you can stay in the service or if they recommend separation, how much disability you may receive. With strain on the Veteran's Administration, you do not want to be out of a job when you injured. This injury may keep you from finding employment to earn a living for you and your family. If you are injured and the military is trying to medically separate you, you need to have someone there fighting to keep you employed while you are healing. If you are forced to leave the service, you need to get the amount of disability you are entitled to and not what some administrator wants to pay you to preserve their budget.
Article 15 / Captain's Mast / Nonjudicial Punishment
When you commit minor misconduct, you can expect your command to want to punish you to the fullest extent possible. Accepting one of these administrative hearings may likely lead to one of the other administrative hearings we discussed earlier. Additionally, the accompanying paperwork is prepared by a servicemember in your command without formal training in the area. In these circumstances there is a good possibility that what you may have done is not a crime or cannot be proven. If this true, accepting one of these hearings is wrong. Having someone that can look at the evidence and see how it is likely to resolve itself is paramount. Otherwise, you may be placing yourself in a situation that you could have refused.
If you ever fail selection and believe that you were treated unfairly or that your record was incorrect, there are steps you can take to request a special selection board or to make yourself more competitive on a future board. An attorney that has been successful in these situations is worth his price in gold. You will likely only have one chance to correct this unfortunate situation. Don't risk your one opportunity by attempting to do this on your own.
Frequently, a servicemember will be selected for promotion to the next grade but the promotion board will not have all the current information. In these situations the individual will either have their name withheld from the promotion list or their promotion delayed because of some sort of documented adverse material in your official record. If this occurs, you will usually be given the opportunity to convince your Service Secretary that despite the cause for the promotion delay, you are still worthy of the promotion. You will definitely need help in drafting your one and only letter to retain your well-deserved promotion. I have successfully helped individuals prepare their package and write the statement that argues their position. You need someone with this experience fighting for you.
Corrections of Records
If your record has incorrect or unfavorable material contained within it, there are procedures where you can attempt to have the material removed. This requires that you or your attorney file a petition with the appropriate Service designated board that determines if relief is warranted. These boards operate under strict regulations. You must convince the board that your situation falls under one of the permissible categories for relief and that the relief is warranted under the situation. If you fail to show how your situation is proper for them to consider, they will reject you petition without considering it. Once your record is corrected, other opportunities may once again be possible. Don't overlook the possibility of having your record cleaned up and remaining competitive with your peers.
Conviction of a crime involving domestic violence can end your military career and result in a mandatory jail sentence in the civilian criminal justice system. Neither of these results are something that you should subject yourself to without the assistance of a lawyer to review the facts of the case and advise you on your options. Even if the case is pled down to an offense that does not constitute domestic violence, the judge is likely to impose a restriction on possessing a firearm as a condition of your probation. If this happens, your branch of service will likely attempt to separate you. You need legal assistance in analyzing the facts and attempting to resolve the case without going to jail or loosing you ability to carry a weapon.
If you were arrested out in the civilian community, you are in need of immediate legal assistance. The way the military defense sections are organized, the uniformed defense counsel are prevented from representing you or even answering questions about the civilian criminal justice process. Not having an attorney to answer simple questions about what to expect in the civilian court system and the associated problems that may materialize in the service puts you at a great disadvantage. Making the wrong decision can have drastic and permanent effects. A simple misdemeanor conviction can force you out of the country if you are not a US citizen, result in you losing your security clearance and possibly getting separated from the service with an other than honorable characterization of service.
Criminal cases in the civilian courts are frequently resolved with a guilty plea of some type and deferred adjudication or acceptance. A typical civilian attorney will push you in that direction without knowing how this can effect your military career. The Uniform Code of Military Justice treats this type of adjudication as a conviction for military purposes and subjects you to potential harm.
Having extensive knowledge of both the civilian and military systems, I can help you navigate the waters between the two and make sure that you do not take the easy way out in the state matter only to find yourself in even more trouble with the armed forces.
The Civilian Prosecuting Attorneys Office and the local military installation section will often make arrangements for the other jurisdiction to try the case and this can happen even after you have been arraigned in one court. If the civilian attorney you hire is not familiar with the military justice system you will find yourself in a distinct disadvantage if he is forced into defending you at a court-martial. Some attorneys' fee agreements will treat this type of dismissal or transferring the case so that the offense can be tried in the other jurisdiction as a completed action and will not represent you in the other jurisdiction without paying more money. An attorney that is unfamiliar with the military community and the military justice system can adversely effect your chance to win.
You need an experienced attorney who understands both systems and can effectively advocate your position in either forum.
Contact me for a free, no-obligation consultation to ensure that you are not putting yourself in greater harm by taking the easy way out of a State case.