What Are The Legal Implications Entailed In A Military DUI Case?

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. If you get arrested for DUI, your career could effectively be over. You typically won’t be allowed to promote or re-enlist.

It’s very important that service members have an outcome to the case that doesn’t have them pleading guilty to a DUI offense. An issue that I see with members of the military, having been in active-duty for over ten 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 proven guilty. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with many military unit commanders. What they’ll do is try and make an example out of people.

Take an arrest that happens over the weekend. The commander will find out about it and have the individual report in their service dress uniform early Monday morning. 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 with any arrest. Additionally, the individual may 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 the importance of maintaining the presumption of innocence. If you go before your commander, then you can exercise your right to remain silent. You don’t have to tell people what happened. What you say can and will be held against you—even though it’s not to law enforcement. 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 made to feel bad, but just know that you have rights. Don’t let higher-ranking people trample on those rights.

If you’re in the military and you get arrested, you can be tried on or off base. If it’s off base, then it will be handled by the state or city prosecutor. It’s 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 base’s Area Defense Counsel helps defend people on base. They’re the public defenders for members of the military. 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 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. Instead of going through a Court Martial, they put pressure on the members to talk and implicate themselves. It’s difficult to get out of it at that point.

The Article 15 is often the easiest way for the commander to go. The punishments can range from extra duty on the weekends to being confined to base—or even to getting kicked out. What often happens in a DUI situation is that the punishment received through an Article 15 is at least something that makes the service member unable to get promoted, so they must separate when their time is up. It varies based on the severity of the crime that the member is alleged to have committed. If you had planned on making the military a career, then one night of drinking too much and getting behind the wheel can end those dreams. So, it’s very important to hire 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.