Can a civilian criminal charge affect my military career?

Making a lifetime commitment to the military can lead to excellent benefits, a rewarding career and a secure retirement. Many servicemembers make serious sacrifices to help protect their country, including moving far from home and straining some of their most important relationships through prolonged absences. Still, those committed to the military will see those sacrifices as worthwhile for themselves and the country.

Sadly, all of those sacrifices may come to nothing if a servicemember makes a major mistake. A successful military career can take a lifetime to build and only a few moments to essentially destroy. Military servicemembers are subject to much higher standards for their behavior than the average civilian. Not only do they need to comply with state and federal regulations, but they also need to follow the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Often, because servicemembers spend so much time at military facilities, any accusations of wrongdoing will come directly from the military. However, there are scenarios in which servicemembers will find themselves facing civilian charges. Will a conviction in civilian court affect your military career?

Yes, the civilian courts can lead to military consequences

Some servicemembers mistakenly believe that civilian penalties are all that apply after they plead guilty to a charge or get convicted in civilian court. However, criminal convictions often trigger military penalties as well.

Servicemembers might mistakenly believe that the rule of double jeopardy would protect them against military consequences. However, Double Jeopardy only applies to someone facing criminal charges from the government multiple times for the same effect. Simply put, Double Jeopardy rules don’t protect servicemembers convicted in civilian court unless they face court-martial proceedings for the same incident.

What penalties are possible?

The charges someone faces will determine what kinds of consequences will impact their military career. A misdemeanor offense may only result in administrative penalties. However, more serious offenses could lead to court-martial and then to incarceration, hard labor or dishonorable discharge. Domestic violence offenses might even make it illegal for a servicemember to possess a firearm.

Understanding the impact of civilian criminal charges on your military profession could help you take the right approach to those charges in civilian courts.