Charges filed against those who are serving in the military are grounds for major concern. Those who are pursuing a military career may recognize that even minor infractions may affect their upward mobility and their ability to qualify for necessary security clearance. Those who simply want to finish their service and then pursue a civilian career can also feel the profound impact of criminal charges if they do not respond appropriately to allegations of criminal wrongdoing.
The military criminal justice process is substantially different from what people can expect in the civilian courts. While many of the same kinds of mistakes and offenses trigger military justice as opposed to civilian criminal charges, the process is often far different when the offense triggers military discipline or occurs on a base. What makes military criminal justice so different?
1. Having a defense attorney isn’t always an option
In some cases involving minor offenses, a defendant undergoing discipline in the military may not have the same right to legal representation that a civilian would when facing an equivalent charge in criminal court. A summary court-martial involving a low-level offense wouldn’t lead to the traditional court-martial process, for example. Thankfully, anyone facing discipline involving a general court-martial will typically have the right to have an attorney represent them.
2. The assortment of penalties is far different
Traditional criminal penalties include incarceration, community service, fines, probation and sometimes licensing penalties. Those serving in the military face a very broad range of potential penalties, including dishonorable discharge and a loss of income temporarily in addition to incarceration and other penalties. The consequences can have major implications for a servicemember’s finances, family or military career.
3. There’s the possibility of a split verdict
Criminal courts in the United States must have a unanimous verdict to convict someone of a criminal offense. Even one holdout on the jury will mean a mistrial. The military justice process is far more nuanced, and it is possible for someone to end up convicted even when some jurors do not believe they are guilty. Only three-quarters of the members of a military jury must vote to convict someone.
These differences mean that military servicemembers who are facing discipline will need to develop a different defense strategy than those who are preparing for civilian criminal court. Responding appropriately to military criminal prosecution can help someone limit the potential consequences associated with a conviction.