What Will a Drug Charge Do to Your Military Career?
June 30, 2020
A drug charge is a serious offense for anyone, but if you’re in the military, the sentence may be especially harsh. After all, military service members are held to a high standard and may be punished severely if found guilty.
If you recently tested positive for illegal drugs or have been implicated in the possession or distribution of controlled substances, you likely face the termination of your military career. You could even receive a felony conviction and incarceration.
About Military Drug Offenses
Article 112(a) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) prohibits the use, possession, and distribution of controlled substances listed in Schedules I through V of the Controlled Substances Act, including but not limited to marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and opium. With a zero-tolerance position on drug use, you can expect harsh consequences, even if you are off-duty or off-base when the alleged incident occurs.
Several circumstances could trigger a military drug charge, including:
- Testing positive for an illegal drug
- Refusing to take a drug test
- Tampering with samples or the drug testing procedure
- Being caught in possession of an intoxicating substance or related paraphernalia
- Distributing, selling, trafficking, or manufacturing illegal drugs
How Drug Tests are Performed in the Military
Six types of cases can be brought under Article 112(a), but the most common one by far is “wrongful use.” Under this charge, punishment may be doled out based primarily on the results of a urinalysis. This lab test can be ordered in several ways:
- Random drug testing: This practice is quite common in the Armed Forces. By collecting random, unannounced urine samples, the military seeks to catch servicemembers who use drugs clandestinely. Random testing itself also serves as an incentive to steer clear of drugs.
- Probable cause urinalysis: If a commander has reason to believe that a member under their command has recently used drugs, they may issue a direct command to provide a urine sample.
- Consent urinalysis: In some cases, a commander or investigator may request a voluntary urine sample for analysis. Service members have the legal right not to consent to this request.
- Unit/command sweeps: In this scenario, a commander orders the entire unit or command to provide a urine sample. Sweeps may be issued to determine the security, fitness, or good order and discipline of a unit. They may not, however, take the place of a probable cause or consent urinalysis if there’s insufficient evidence to request a urine sample from an individual service member.
- Commander-directed urinalysis: The purpose of this test is to determine a member’s suitability for duty, need for medical treatment, or need for rehabilitation. If the test comes back positive on a commander-directed urinalysis, the results may be used as a basis for discharge, but they cannot result in legal action under the UCMJ.
Consequences for Drug Offense Convictions
Drug charges may have serious administrative consequences and long-term punitive sentences that can affect your military career and life overall. Some of the most common penalties include:
- Bad Conduct discharge: Drug use is often labeled as “serious misconduct.” This can lead to military discharge, including a Bad Conduct or in extreme cases a dishonorable discharge. In addition, being discharged for a drug offense renders you ineligible for reenlistment in any branch of the Armed Forces.
- Jail time: A guilty verdict in a civilian court could result in extended incarceration. The best way to defend against this consequence is to have the charge heard in a military trial. However, even if your case goes to a court martial, a guilty verdict here could escalate the case to a civilian court, where an imprisonment sentence is possible.
- Felony charge: Many drug offenses are considered felonies. You could face future employment and housing problems if you are convicted of a drug felony.
Fortunately, sound legal representation may reduce the penalties for drug possession and use. Don’t take your chances with a free, randomly appointed military lawyer—get the best defense possible by hiring an attorney you can trust to represent you effectively.
Non-Judicial Punishment vs. Courts Martial
All branches of the military have the power to bring drug charges before a court martial, but many times, wrongful use cases are handled via non-judicial punishment (NJP). If you have been offered an NJP, you have the right to either accept this offer or go before a court martial.
Should you accept the NJP? In many cases, this is the best available option because the hearing is less formal and may offer less severe punishments than a court martial. However, you forfeit access to the military court system, giving your commander complete control over your case and sentence.
In certain situations, it’s better to hire an attorney to defend you aggressively in a court martial, rather than consent to an NJP. Before making your decision, consult with a military criminal defense attorney. After reviewing the charges and evidence, your attorney will offer expert advice about protecting your legal rights and professional interests.
Defending a Military Drug Charge
Hiring an attorney is the best way to secure an aggressive, well-prepared defense against any drug charges you may be facing. The two most successful angles include:
- Issues with the sample collection and testing procedures: Your lawyer must address the evidence presented by the prosecution to formulate a winning defense. In a majority of wrongful use cases, urinalysis results make up part or all of the evidence. However, it has been shown time and again that these tests are not always accurate. Your attorney may be able to argue in favor of contamination, mishandling, or other unknown factor leading to a false positive.
- Innocent ingestion: To arrive at a guilty verdict, the prosecution must prove that you knowingly ingested the drug. This defense strategy involves demonstrating that you were slipped the drug or didn’t know that what you were ingesting was illegal. The circumstances surrounding when, where, and what drug was consumed may support such a defense.
Hiring a Military Criminal Defense Attorney
If you, a friend, or a relative has tested positive for drugs while serving in the military, it’s crucial to seek competent legal representation as soon as possible. When you work with Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law, rest assured that you’re receiving counsel from a lawyer who formerly served as an Army JAG officer. We have handled countless military drug offense cases and provide legal counsel for members of the military stationed all over the world.
To speak with a dedicated legal team about defending yourself against drug charges, please contact Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law by calling us toll free at 888-616-6177 or 254-320-9338. Our caring, experienced staff will help you through this trying time and provide you with the best defense possible.