Military law is unique, and the experience of a military member in court different from what a civilian can expect to face following an arrest. Not every lawyer has the skills and experience to serve as an effective military criminal defense attorney. For this reason, it isn’t wise to hire just any civilian lawyer if you are a military member facing a court martial.
Generally, the attorney you will be provided with by the military isn’t likely going to give your case the best possible outcome. While accused military members are entitled to receive a free military lawyer, this typically isn’t a service worth relying upon if you’re hoping to see a favorable outcome to your case. These free military lawyers often have limited court-martial experience and haven’t yet developed an understanding of military court, including its many unique complexities.
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Fortunately, if you’re a military member accused of a crime, you have the option to hire your own civilian attorney. Nonetheless, it’s important to be careful as you go about the hiring process. You’ll need to select a lawyer with extensive experience in military law. Not all civilian lawyers will have a developed understanding of the military court systemand what sets it apart from civilian court. If your attorney hasn’t previously defended a client involved in court-martial, then there’s a slim chance they’ll understand the best possible course of action, whatever it may be.
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Though many in the military aren’t aware of this, it is entirely possible for a civilian lawyer to represent a military member in court. However, this doesn’t mean that each and every civilian lawyer has the necessary skills to defend a military member — even if you would be able to hire them.
Still, a civilian lawyer is generally a better route to take, as opposed to working with the military attorney you were assigned. The core necessity is that you hire a civilian lawyer who has previously participated in (and won) cases in court-martial, rather than simply in civilian court. Even if an attorney has a fantastic track record defending individuals in civilian court cases, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll have the knowledge to effectively defend a client in court-martial.
Not only do many military attorneys lack substantial experience, but further, they’re typically burdened by a huge caseload. As a consequence, they aren’t going to be able to devote the necessary time and attention to your case, as they juggle several others.
When a military attorney is assigned to you, then they are a Judge Advocate General, also known as a JAG lawyer. JAG attorneys are military personnel themselves.
If you’re currently unfamiliar with the fundamental ins and outs of military law, you might not be certain what court-martial is and how it varies from civilian court.
If a civilian is accused of a serious crime and sent to court, they will be facing the civilian court system. However, if a military member finds themselves in this same circumstance, they’ll soon be faced with court-martial, instead.
Typically, court-martial is utilized whenever military members commit serious crimes, such as felonies. Alternatively, when it comes to less serious crimes, a military member probably won’t face court-martial. Rather, in instances of less serious criminal offenses, the individual will be given a Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP), which is also known as Article 15.
Further, depending on the severity and nature of the military member’s crime, the faction of court-martial that they’re sent to can vary. More specifically, it’s possible for the accused individual to face summary court-martial, special court-martial, or general court-martial. This is a system that was established by The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Each type of court-martial features a different makeup, when it comes to the judge and jury. In addition, the kinds of punishments the accused individual could face will vary, based upon the type of court-martial they are involved in.
As the most severe form of court-martial, general court-martial is a felony court. Individuals in general court-martial tend to face the most serious punishments, should they be convicted of the crime. As an example, military members who are accused of sex crimes, such as sexual assault, will typically be facing general court-martial.
Whenever an accused individual is sent to court-martial, no matter the form, they will be provided with a free military attorney. More often than not, these lawyers either lack the experience to adequately defend their client in court-martial, or they are too weighed down by a large caseload to put much effort into developing a strong case. For this reason, it usually a smart decision to hire a civilian lawyer if you were accused of a crime in the military — especially if that crime is serious, such as with felonies.
If you have any reservations about hiring a civilian attorney for a court-martial case, then this is probably the question you’re asking. Do civilian lawyers actually have the resources they need in order to present a truly convincing case in court-martial? Well, even if you have your doubts, this is an entirely possible feat — and many experienced civilian military lawyers have achieved and perfected it.
While the differences between civilian court and courtmartial are important, at the end of the day, they’re mainly just details. No matter the court, it’s going to function just about the same, save for some notable structural and procedural variations. Even if someone is a civilian attorney, as long as they have experience defending individuals in court-martial, they are perfectly equipped to present a convincing case.
That being said, how does a civilian military attorney typically go about developing a case? What are the steps that are generally involved in this process to provide clients with the best possible chance of a positive outcome? Here are some of those key steps.
Considering the attorney provided to you by the military is free, it can feel difficult to justify hiring a civilian lawyer, who will cost you additional money. There are a few factors that you should consider before coming to this conclusion.
To start, try to keep in mind all the costs you’ll be faced with should you lose your case in court-martial. Depending upon the nature of the accusation, it is possible that you could lose your job (as well as future job prospects), military housing benefits, medical benefits, and more. If you were accused of a sex crime, there’s also the chance that you may need to register as a sex offender. Simply put, these are all high costs to pay — and if you’re not represented by a competent and dedicated attorney, then it is far more likely that you’ll be facing these losses.
So, if you are considering working with an appointed attorney, these are some risks you should keep in mind. Ultimately, you need a lawyer who you have the full attention of. Otherwise, it’s considerably more likely that your case will take a turn for the worst.
Although the price you might pay for a civilian military attorney can vary, try to keep in mind the potential costs of not working with a good lawyer. Not only do many of these consequences carry a heavy financial burden, but additionally, losing a case in court-martial could even cost you your rights or privileges. As soon as you become a federal convict, for instance, you’ll never again be allowed to possess a firearm, vote, or hold any form of government job. These are extreme costs to pay, and they can be avoided by hiring a civilian military lawyer with a winning track record.
Of course, hiring a civilian attorney isn’t a guarantee that you’ll win your case — however, in many instances, your chances will be significantly increased. In the long run, you will be saving more money than if you had worked with a JAG attorney, despite their inability to put time and effort into your case.
If you’ve recently been accused of a military crime, especially if that crime is a felony, you should avoid speaking to anyone without your attorney present. It is often tempting to discuss the situation with someone you trust, especially if you believe they have the power to get you out of trouble. More often than not, this action isn’t going to be worth it.
Whenever you answer questions or speak about the situation without first creating a plan (and without your civilian military attorney at your side), you risk making a statement that could damage your case. Oftentimes, these statements seem innocuous at the time, so you may not even consider holding back. Still, you’d be surprised how simple it can be to inadvertently incriminate yourself, whether or not you’re actually guilty of the crime.
So, rather than turn to your superiors and attempt to recontextualize or explain the situation, try to stay quiet until you have an attorney’s assistance. That way, there’s a far smaller chance that you’ll say the “wrong thing” and accidentally damage your case beyond simple repair.
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