Getting a DUI as a member of the military can end a career. In my 17+ years in the military, I have seen this happen to many people. The Air Force, at least, is essentially a zero-mistake Air Force. If you commit a mistake such as a DUI or any other alcohol-related incident, it can be an extremely bad impact on your career. You typically won’t be allowed to promote or re-enlist.
It’s very important that if you get a DUI, or if you are arrested for DUI, that you have an outcome to the case that doesn’t have you pleading guilty to a DUI offense. An issue that I see with members of the military, having been in active-duty for over 10 years, is that members who get arrested are believed to be guilty just because they were arrested. Our system is supposed to presume people innocent until the state proves them guilty. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with many military unit commanders. What they’ll do is try and make an example out of those people.
Take the example of an arrest that happens over the weekend. The commander will find out about it and have the individual show up in their service dress uniform early Monday morning. They’ll have to report into the commander. The commander will grill them about what happened. The member may even have to talk to several commanders about what happened. And this isn’t just for DUIs. This happens whenever someone is arrested. Additionally, the individual may even have to stand before their peers and explain what happened. I’ve even seen a situation where the commander opened it up to questions from members of the audience. People in the “audience” were actually asking the arrestee questions! So, these are all things that members of the military can be subjected to—shame, embarrassment, and railroading.
The biggest problem here is the breakdown in the presumption of innocence. Therefore, I try as hard as I can to get across to people that you need to ensure that your presumption of innocence is maintained. So, if you go and talk to your commander, then exercise your right to remain silent. You don’t have to tell everybody what happened. As soon as you tell one person what happened, even though it’s not to a police officer, what you say can and will be held against you. Once you tell one person, it’s over. Let your attorney look over the evidence and discuss your case with you before you talk about it with anybody. You’ll be threatened and you’ll be made to feel bad, but just know that you have rights, don’t let people who are of higher rank than you trample on those rights.
If you’re in the military and you get arrested, you can be tried on or off base. Usually, if it’s off base, then it’ll be handled by the state or city prosecutor. It’ll usually not transferred to the JAG office on base. However, that does happen sometimes. If you’re arrested on base, then it’s very likely that your case will be prosecuted on base. The Area Defense Counsel on base helps people defend themselves. They’re kind of like public defenders for members of the military on base. But, you can certainly hire a private attorney to handle your case on base. You would want somebody who’s familiar with the UCMJ, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, because that’s the body of law that they’ll be using to prosecute you.
If you’re prosecuted off base, you definitely want representation from someone who’s familiar with the procedures and the law for whatever jurisdiction is prosecuting you. Therefore, the Area Defense Counsel will likely not be helping you if your case is prosecuted off base.
Another consequence that arrested members of the military face is an Article 15—known as “non-judicial punishment.” Instead of going through a court martial, the commander has the ability to punish the member through an Article 15. This basically means that the commander can punish the member in some way. This is oftentimes what happens because instead of going through a Court Martial, they put pressure on the members to talk and the member implicates himself or herself.
It’s not very easy to get out of it at that point. The Article 15 is often the easiest way to go. The punishments there can range from extra duty on the weekends to being confined to base, or even to being kicked out. Oftentimes what happens in a DUI situation is that the punishment received through an Article 15 is something that makes them unable to get promoted, and so they have to separate when their time is up. It’ll vary based on the severity of the crime that the member is alleged to have committed. If you’d planned on making the military a career, then one night of drinking too much and getting behind the wheel can end your entire life’s goal. So it’s very important that first, you don’t do that, but second, if that happens to you, then you get an attorney who understands what’s going on with the military, the culture there, and what they’re going to try to do to you. You must seek counsel who’s going to do everything they can to obtain an outcome that’s not going to cost you your job.
For more information on DUI in the Military, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (405) 633-3420 today.