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Military meets civilian: Criminal cases regarding service members

Members of the military are held to a higher code of conduct than many other people. While this means that they do have to be careful about what they do on base and off, there are times when issues might arise. Criminal matters for military members have some considerations that aren't present for civilians.

One of the biggest things to remember is that civilians are only subjected to federal, state and local laws. Military members are subjected to all of these, as well as the Uniform Code of Military Justice

Location of the incident

The location of the criminal action can have an impact on how these cases are handled. When they occur on base, you are going to face the military authorities. If they happen off base, you will face civilian criminal courts, but you might also have to deal with the military authorities for punitive and administrative actions.

There might be times in which the criminal matter includes elements on base and off base. Determining how these cases are handled might not be clear cut. There is a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Defense that may help authorities to decide how to handle matters. One important note here is that the departments will work together to ensure that the established two-year statute of limitations is met for criminal matters.

Two justice systems

A service member who faces a criminal matter in the civilian court system will go through the same process as other defendants. He or she must not be treated any differently just because of the military service, so it is imperative for the individual to prepare for the case just as any other person with a similar case would.

There is also the chance that the person will face an Article 14. This is a court martial in which the person will stand before the military court. Because of the differences in laws and procedures, it is often recommended that the person use a Judge Advocate General, or JAG attorney, to handle their defense; however, some civilian attorneys do have experience in these matters.

Even if a person faces the civilian court, the military can still impose penalties that can range from a letter of reprimand to a discharge from the military without the possibility of being able to reenlist. Some other possible actions include having driving privileges revoked, being unable to get a pass to leave base, being sent to Captain's Mast or having to serve time on restriction. Pay grade reductions and other similar actions are also possible.

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