Military Crimes

Successful Defense of Military Crime Charges in Riverside

Riverside Military Crimes Attorney

Stephen SweigartWith more than 30 military bases, California is home to about 185,000 U.S. military service personnel (active and reserve). That’s more than any other state in the nation.

Because it takes such courage to wear the uniform and fight to defend our country, it can be heartbreaking to see that same government seemingly put all its weight into prosecuting uniformed men and women who have either been wrongly accused of a criminal offense or who have simply made a mistake.

Why it’s vital you make the right selection when choosing a military crimes lawyer.
If you’re facing military crime charges, you’ll have the option of working with the defense lawyer assigned to you by the armed forces. However, the stakes are simply too high (court-martial, discharge, dismissal and other harsh penalties) to put your reputation and future into the hands of an inexperienced and likely overworked defense lawyer appointed by your branch.

That’s why it’s crucial that you leverage the strengths and energy of a lawyer who knows exactly how the military justice system works, and will give your case the undivided attention you deserve.

On this page, we’ll:

  • explain the military justice process;
  • discuss the more commonly reported types of criminal charges and the associated penalties;
  • share strategies for what you should do if you’re facing military charges; and
  • explain why it makes sense to take advantage of the expertise of a civilian lawyer to protect your record, honor and freedom.

What is military law?
The course for charting exactly how military law works is found in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and it covers all branches of the U.S. military. When you officially enlisted in the armed services, you became subject to the authority of the UCMJ.

In addition to spelling out things like how cases are brought to military courts, the various types of court martial, the way that the accused are to be apprehended, etc., the UCMJ also spells out your rights, which include:

  • a fair trial;
  • legal representation, either by a military or civilian defense lawyer;
  • the freedom to not answer any question without an attorney present; and
  • the right to not by subjected – without probably cause – to unreasonable search and seizure.

How does the military justice system work?
There are three (3) separate levels of military courts, and they each handle different types of alleged offenses. They are Courts-Martial (summary, special and general), Courts of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Services.

Types of Military Courts, Cases they handle, and Sentences They Impose

Summary Court-Martial
A military officer, typically a judge advocate, will serve as both judge and jury. The types of cases involved by a Summary Court-Martial are relatively minor, and are mainly equal to misdemeanor-level misconduct in the civilian world.

The Summary Courts-Martial will usually impose sentences including:

  • confinement up to one (1) month;
  • hard labor without confinement for up to forty-five (45) days; or
  • forfeiture of up to two-thirds (2/3) of one (1) month’s pay.

Special Court-Martial
Having jurisdiction over most of the offenses described in the UCMJ, the Special Courts-Martial is viewed as the intermediate of the court levels. Common charges handled at this level include larceny, assault, drug use, desertion, etc.

Participating in the trial are a military judge, at least three (3) officers who form the jury, a prosecutor and a defense lawyer. The possible penalties at the disposal of the Special Courts-Martial include:

  • confinement for up to one (1) year;
  • the loss of two-thirds (2/3) pay each month for six (6) months; and
  • a bad-conduct discharge.

While the judge oversees the trial, it’s actually the jury that determines what penalties to deliver. General Court-Martial
The most severe of the three-tiered courts, a General Court-Martial will commonly handle cases involving alleged offenses including murder, rape and sexual assault, aggravated physical abuse, drug distribution, child pornography and child sexual abuse, etc.

Taking part in a General Court-Martial will be a military judge, a jury panel of five (5) or more members, a prosecutor and your defense lawyer.

The potential penalties include:

  • death sentence (if all members of the jury unanimously agree);
  • confinement for a year or more;
  • bad-conduct discharge;
  • dishonorable discharge; and
  • officer dismissal.

The legal process for alleged military crimes.
Here is a general timeline for how the process works once you’re alleged to have committed offenses that violate the UCMJ.

  1. Pretrial Confinement
    Once the allegedly offenses are made known, your commanding officer (CO) will be notified. The CO may order that you be confined while the determination on how to proceed is made.

During confinement – referred to as pretrial confinement – it’s required that you be told clearly about the offenses you’ve allegedly made.

Your CO can decide to proceed to a court-martial, go ahead and deal with the issue by ordering a non-judicial punishment (which you can appeal) or dismiss the matter altogether.

A decision of proceeding to court-martial, however, must be made within 120 days of your detention.

  1. Preferring of the Charges
    This marks the beginning of the court-martial process, and consists of the charges made against you explained in the presence of your CO, yourself and a neutral third officer. It’s also during this time that a military judge and lawyers for both sides are assigned.

Much like the “discovery process” in civilian law, both sides will then carry out their own investigation of the facts surrounding the alleged offenses. A huge difference from the civilian courts, however, is that both sides can continue with their investigations throughout the court-martial process.

  1. Entering Your Plea
    Following the Preferring of the Charges, you’ll have the opportunity to enter a plea. If you decide to plead guilty, the judge is under strict orders to accept the plea only after satisfaction that you fully comprehended the charges and possible consequences.If you enter a plea of “not guilty,” your case will proceed to trial, and jury panel will be chosen.
  2. The Trial
    Like trails in civilian courts, the prosecution and defense will have their chance to argue their side of the events, including the presentation of evidence and the cross-examination of witnesses.

Once both sides have presented their versions, the assigned military judge will instruct the jury panel to make their decision about guilt or innocence and determine what penalties (if any) will be handed down based upon USMJ guidelines.

  1. The Right to an Appeal
    If, after the trial and panel decision, you feel that the court-martial was in error, you have the right to appeal their decision. The decision is automatically appealed if the sentence is death.

Why should I hire a civilian lawyer to handle my military trial?
First, it’s important to note that not just any civilian lawyer is qualified to handle military crime cases. Quite often, though, the military defense lawyer assigned to handle cases is either overworked, inexperienced or has an obligation to a CO that interferes with his or her duties to the accused.

When selecting a civilian lawyer, it’s crucial that you choose one whom:

  • knows the ins-and-outs of military law;
  • will handle your case directly, rather than passing you off to a junior assistant; and
  • has the resources in place to carry out a thorough investigation to clear your name and protect your freedom.

When should I hire a lawyer?
ASAP. The faster your lawyer is able to roll up the shirtsleeves and get to work on your behalf, the better things will be for you.

Should I make a statement or answer questions?
Not until you have a lawyer on your side. Unfortunately, a presumption of “innocent until proven guilty” seemingly does not exist in the military. We know that being questioned about an alleged offense can be intimidating, but the only person you should be speaking with is your lawyer. You do have the right to remain silent, so do the smart thing and use that right.

If you’re facing charges for alleged military crimes, call Sharp Criminal Lawyers in Riverside. 
Because you’ve fought to defend us, you have a special place in our hearts, and we will fight for you with everything we have to offer.

If you find yourself facing criminal charges as a member of the US military, the stakes are high. We thoroughly understand the complexity of military law, and will aggressively develop a strategy to help you get back on track, and we can offer a payment plan you can afford.

Call Sharp Criminal Lawyers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 951-777-1111 so we can get you the help you need.

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