Why Service Members Should Stay Silent When Arrested

If you have been arrested while serving in the Armed Forces, your military career and livelihood may be on the line. How well you know your rights and even how you conduct yourself immediately following your arrest could greatly impact how your case plays out. That’s why you should know about your right to remain silent.

Anything You Say Can and Will be Used Against You in a Court of Law

If you have ever watched a crime drama on TV, you’ve heard this famous line that police officers rattle off to perpetrators while they’re being arrested. The phrase is far more than just an iconic piece of dialog—the rights that accompany it have their origin in the famous Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona. While Miranda rights for military personnel are different than civilians, it’s important to first understand the civilian process.

Certain conditions must be satisfied for Miranda warnings to be required in the civilian world:

  • The person being questioned must be in police custody, meaning they are not free to leave.
  • The person must be subject to interrogation. (Questions regarding identity do not necessarily require Miranda rights, even if the subject is in custody.)

For example, imagine that Officer Johnson suspects Joe, a civilian, of committing a robbery. Officer Johnson calls Joe on the phone, asking him to come to the station. Joe complies, and once he arrives, he is immediately asked if he committed the robbery.

In this case, Joe is not in custody—he drove to the police station voluntarily and can leave at any time. Therefore, Officer Johnson is not required to read him his Miranda rights. Anything Joe admits under these circumstances can be used as evidence against him in court.

Article 31: The Military’s Version of Miranda Rights

Much like Miranda rights granted to civilians, Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) outlines the rights of arrested service members. These include:

  • The right to remain silent
  • The right to have an attorney
  • The right to stop answering questions at any time

You should expect a military law enforcement agent to inform you of these rights before questioning you or requesting a statement regarding your guilt or innocence. Also, under Article 31, “No person…may interrogate, or request any statement from, an accused or a person suspected of an offense without first informing him of the nature of the accusation.”

This means if law enforcement fails to explain why you have been arrested or your right to remain silent, any statement you make could be viewed as involuntary. Because you were not adequately warned, involuntary statements made under these circumstances are inadmissible in court.

You Cannot be Compelled to Incriminate Yourself

One of the most important rights under Article 31 is the right to remain silent. You are not required to speak to an investigator about the charges against you! It is perfectly legal to remain silent, even if you are not in official custody, a privilege granted to service members because of the “uniquely coercive factors present in a military environment.” This is the biggest difference between civilian Miranda rights and Article 31 for Armed Forces personnel.

It is recommended that you exercise your Article 31 rights until you speak with an attorney, even if you are entirely innocent. Disobeying what comes across as a direct order may go against everything you have learned as a Soldier, Airman, Sailor, or Marine. However, once you have been arrested, you should refuse to say anything that could incriminate you. Firmly and politely request to stop answering questions until you have a military attorney by your side.

Many service members believe if they cooperate, they can talk their way out of an investigation. However, if you waive your rights to remain silent, you are not on a level playing field. Authorities are not required to tell you what evidence they have, and they can hide information from you if they wish. Attempting to question you without a lawyer present means they want you to talk, and talking only helps the prosecution.

Protect Your Rights as an Enlisted Service Member

The moment you realize you’re facing criminal accusations, contact Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law. We are committed to ensuring a favorable outcome for your court martial case. With 11 years of military service and prior experience as a military prosecutor, Mr. Jordan has a firm knowledge of military law and how it pertains to enlisted service members.

You serve your country and defend the rights and freedoms of others—now let us do the same for you! Call us toll free at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411 today to speak directly with Joseph L. Jordan about your case.