What Happens If a Military Member is Titled?

When a military service member is accused of a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), it triggers a complex and often misunderstood process called “titling and indexing.” Every service member facing criminal accusations should understand this process, its implications, and the pathways to amend or challenge a titling decision.

The Case of Sgt. Maj. Eriq Brown

Before exploring the nitty-gritty of titling and indexing, consider a recent real-life story published in the Stars and Stripes. Retired Sgt. Maj. Eriq Brown’s unexpected discovery of a criminal charge during a routine disability benefits screening in 2021 is a stark example of the unintended, long-term consequences of improper titling decisions. Despite a 28-year career in the Army, Brown found himself entangled in a bureaucratic quagmire with far-reaching implications. Such situations affect thousands of other veterans who have served honorably.

The origin of Brown’s troubles stemmed from an accusation by a fellow soldier in South Korea two years earlier, alleging assault over three months. An internal investigation found no evidence to support the claims. In fact, Brown wasn’t even on duty the day of an alleged incident.

Brown was never arrested, charged, or subjected to any form of judicial punishment. A reprimand in his personnel file for unprofessional behavior cited “poor judgment” on his behalf but clearly stated that Brown had committed no crime. Despite all this, the incident shows up on Brown’s criminal record.

The Impact of Titling and Indexing

The heart of Brown’s issue is the Defense Department’s policy of entering suspects’ names into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database based merely on “credible information” of a crime. This process, known as titling and indexing, can be set off simply by someone reporting an incident. The policy has been in place since the early 1990s.

Being titled can have far-reaching implications for service members. This mark on their record reflects on their time in the military and extends into their civilian life. The consequences of these entries include failed background checks, loss of job opportunities, security clearance issues, and damaged personal and professional reputations.

It’s crucial to note that titling is not an indication of guilt—it’s merely a procedural step preceding any evidence gathering or formal investigation. However, the stigma associated with being investigated for a crime and the potential misunderstandings surrounding the situation are significant.

The Defense Department’s policy diverges from civilian law enforcement practices, where names are only entered upon arrest or indictment. Critics argue this practice serves only to bureaucratically punish individuals without due process, creating lifelong repercussions for those involved. One former Army attorney called it “a pervasive, arbitrary, and capricious administrative function that serves no legitimate government purpose.”

According to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID), “The purpose of titling is to ensure the accuracy and efficiency of the report and to ensure it is retrievable for future law enforcement or security purposes.” The CID does not clarify the necessity of reporting to the FBI’s database so early in the investigative process.

A Systemic Issue That’s Difficult to Reverse

Brown’s case is not isolated. Take one soldier who was mistakenly implicated in a recruitment probe. The resulting false record barred him from reenlistment, led to his wife and children leaving him, and prevented him from securing civilian employment. By the time the Army corrected the mistake on his record, his family was gone, and he was living in his car.

In another example, Lt. Lee Hughes faced false accusations during a recruitment investigation, which led him to lose a promotion in the Vermont National Guard. Despite eventually clearing his name and securing a federal government job, Hughes couldn’t reclaim his promotion before retiring in 2019 with 20 years of service, costing him thousands of dollars in retirement benefits.

The military’s use of titling and indexing has been criticized for its broad and often irreversible effects on people’s lives. Efforts to expunge such records have proven largely unsuccessful, with less than 9% of requests granted by the Army and Air Force since 2021. This means honorably discharged veterans who have never committed a crime could face serious, life-altering consequences because of false reports.

Although Congress mandated a more accessible path for expungement in 2021, the actual process remains nearly impossible, with the burden of proof placed on individuals to demonstrate their innocence. The slow response from the Pentagon in updating its expungement policy and the ongoing challenges faced by those seeking justice demonstrate that this systemic issue demands attention.

Brown himself enlisted legal help to get his record expunged, but the records correction board denied his request in July 2023. The reason cited was that his case fell under the outdated policy. The possibility for Brown or others in similar situations to seek expungement under the new guidelines remains unclear, as the Army has not provided clarification.

Since his expungement was denied, Brown has faced challenges adapting to civilian life. With a master’s degree and decades of relevant experience, employers should be lining up to offer him a job. Yet, the only place he has found work is at a hardware store, where he makes just above minimum wage. Brown’s record has also hindered his aspirations to mentor youths in his community. These unjust consequences cause stress and prevent him from reaching his full potential.

The Challenges of Amending or Deleting a Titling Decision

It’s not uncommon for service members to be improperly titled due to insufficient evidence or errors in the investigative process. There are avenues to challenge such decisions, but this requires sufficient evidence and the ability to mount a convincing defense. If you recently discovered that you’ve been improperly titled, you should consult with an experienced military defense attorney like Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law.

With 18 years of experience, Mr. Jordan’s background as a former enlisted Soldier and Army JAG officer equips him with unique insights into military law. Our firm offers global assistance for all military branches, handling complex cases with personalized attention to detail. For help amending your record and clearing your name, please call us toll-free at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411 and discuss your case with Mr. Jordan today.

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