A different set of laws govern criminal investigations and prosecutions of military personnel. The duties and obligations of a service member are unfamiliar to many who have never served. I have served as a United States Marine, and I am now proud to represent military personnel in legal matters, including courts-martial, as a military criminal defense attorney.

Who is Subject to the Military Criminal Law System?

Military criminal laws mainly have jurisdiction over members of the Uniformed Services, including the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy, as well as cadets at the service academies. Under certain circumstances, military law may apply to services like the Coast Guard, National Guard, and Reserves, such as when they are deployed on active duty according to federal law. Federal criminal law, either military or civilian, may also apply to federal employees and contractors when working for the government overseas.

What are the Laws that Govern Military Criminal Cases?

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), 10 U.S.C. Chapter 47, defines most of the offenses and procedures followed by military prosecutors and courts. It generally applies to active-duty service members, cadets, and National Guard members and Reservists on active deployment. Employees of the federal government, including service members, and civilian employees of federal contractors may be subject to federal military or civilian criminal laws while working abroad under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA), 18 U.S.C. Chapter 212.

How is the Military Court System Different from Civilian Courts?

Many of the criminal offenses defined in the UCMJ mirror offenses defined by federal and state law. Other offenses may be unique to the military system, such as offenses related to desertion, insubordinate conduct, or disrespect toward a superior commissioned officer.

The UCMJ allows for two types of proceedings, depending on the severity of the alleged offense. Courts-martial are similar to criminal trials, with some procedural differences, and a conviction can result in prison time. Non-judicial punishment is not considered a “conviction” under the UCMJ, and may consist of penalties such as forfeiture of pay, additional duties, or confinement to quarters.

Defendants under the UCMJ have greater rights in investigations than civilian defendants. For example, they have the right to present their own evidence and witnesses and to cross-examine prosecution witnesses during formal investigations, before charges are filed. Civilian defendants under investigation may not even know an investigation is taking place.

Is a Conviction in a Military Court Martial Considered a Felony in the Civil Court System?

Under civilian federal law, any offense that may lead to a prison sentence of one year or more is considered a “felony.” This includes offenses under the UCMJ and state law. Federal law places restrictions on many individuals with felony convictions, such as prohibitions on possession of a firearm. A conviction under the UCMJ could therefore have serious consequences for a service member after their discharge from active duty.

If you have been charged with a military criminal offense in Washinton, an experienced military criminal defense attorney can help. We can advise you of your rights and options under the military and civilian criminal systems, and will vigorously defend you against the charges brought by the government. For more than 20 years, We have protected the rights of service members in courts-martial and other proceedings. Contact us today for your confidential case evaluation, or call (888) 212-4824