Why You Need a UCMJ Lawyer
March 30, 2021
Have you been accused of a crime while serving in the military? You may seek representation from a free UCMJ lawyer if your case is referred to a general court martial or special court martial. Knowing this, why would you seek other legal representation on your own? There are plenty of reasons to secure the best possible military defense counsel rather than settling for free representation or hiring a civilian lawyer. Here’s why you should hire a military attorney who is well-versed in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
The military has a unique system of rules.
The UCMJ guides the military law process, which is separate and apart from the civilian court system. Many of the rules in the UCMJ vary significantly from civilian laws. It’s even possible to break military law without committing any civilian crimes. Such offenses include mutiny, sedition, insubordinate conduct, and failure to obey an order. However, most crimes violate both military and civilian law, so they can be tried in civilian court or a court martial.
Because military courts follow completely different rules, a UCMJ lawyer is critical to the success of your case.
Free attorneys are a gamble.
In civilian criminal cases, the court assigns a public defender to anyone who can’t afford or doesn’t want to hire an attorney on their own. Judge Advocate General (JAG) attorneys are the military’s equivalent to public defenders.
JAGs are active military members serving as defense attorneys. Some assigned JAG officers are highly reputable, providing an excellent defense. Many JAGs even go on to open their own legal practices as UCMJ lawyers, including Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law. However, there is such thing as a “career” JAG officer. These lawyers spend their whole legal career as a JAG. Typically, they start off as either a legal assistance attorney or as a trial counsel. Trial Counsel is another word for military prosecutor. After they have served their initial term as a military prosecutor they may move on to other roles in operations law, administrative law and of course defense. Generally, after they have served one tour as a defense attorney they never return to that role. The go on to continue to work as government attorney’s in just about any capacity other than defense counsel. If they intend on having a career in the JAG Corps, they typically don’t have an interest in rocking the boat when acting as a defense counsel.
Every JAG officer is ethically obligated to defend their clients to the best of their ability. However, consider that attorney supervisors often determine assigned attorneys’ promotions, future assignments, and retirements. As long as free military defense lawyers continue working for the same military service as the military prosecutors, implied conflict of interests will exist.
You might get lucky and be assigned a good JAG attorney, but are you willing to take the risk?
Free attorneys have hidden costs.
When you are accused of a crime while serving in the military, your career, benefits, and freedom are all at stake. If you lose your case because of an assigned attorney’s lack of experience, it will cost you significantly more in the long run than hiring a knowledgeable UCMJ lawyer. The potential costs are dire:
- Your career could be derailed.
- You could lose your retirement and veteran’s benefits.
- You could lose your enlistment bonus and have to pay back your military academy tuition.
- You may have to register as a sex offender.
You can greatly reduce the risk of these outcomes by working with a UCMJ attorney.
Free attorneys aren’t assigned until you’ve been charged.
Similar to a public defender, you aren’t assigned a JAG attorney until the charges are official. After all, government-appointed lawyers must perform military duties in addition to their legal work, so they can’t make time for people who haven’t been formally notified yet.
On the other hand, you can hire a UCMJ attorney at any time—preferably at the first sign of trouble—giving you a chance to receive legal advice and begin working out a strategy in case charges are brought against you.
Courts martial can be unfair.
The military justice system pits humble service members against military prosecutors with nearly limitless amounts of money and other resources. Military prosecution has one goal in mind—to secure a conviction and dole out a heavy sentence. Consider how due process in civilian court compares with military court:
- In civilian court, experienced lawyers weigh the evidence and determine whether to bring charges.
- In military court, a commander with limited legal training decides whether to bring charges. Often times the commander is advised by a young lawyer intent on making their mark and justifying their existence as a military lawyer.
- Civilian public defenders confer with experts and investigators when building a case strategy, which they need not share with prosecutors.
- Military defense attorneys must reveal case strategies to the prosecution to obtain access to experts (this usually only in the instance in which an expert is denied and motions practice needs to occur).
Sending charges to trial
- If a federal grand jury decides the charges shouldn’t go to trial, the decision is binding.
- The outcome of military Article 32 investigations is often ignored, and charges may be referred to a court martial despite recommendations to the contrary.
- Impartial civilian juries are selected at random from a cross-section of the community.
- Service members have no right to a trial by an impartial jury of their peers—only a token representative jury known as a military panel, which is almost always composed of senior enlisted and officers.
- In civilian court, constitutional protections apply, both to the charges brought against the accused and the trial procedures.
- In addition to denying the right to a jury, the military routinely makes other constitutional exceptions. Military law also still criminalizes many things that are legal in the civilian world, such as cannabis use and adultery.
- In civilian cases, a 12-person jury must reach a unanimous verdict to convict the accused.
- In a court martial, a small military panel can convict the accused by a three-fourths majority (up from two-thirds prior to 2019) in all cases except those involving capital punishment.
Choose Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law as your UCMJ lawyer
The complexity of military cases and the lasting consequences of a guilty verdict underscore the importance of securing proper legal representation. With a 15-year tenure as a military attorney and previous experience as an Army JAG officer, Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law is well-equipped to fight for you. We have handled highly complex cases on behalf of service members stationed around the world. Choose our UCMJ lawyer to represent your case, and you’ll increase the chances of a desirable outcome.