Army CCA Says Underage Drinking Not Defined as Punitive

The Army Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) recently announced that the Army regulation that prohibits underage drinking – AR 600-85, 3-2c – is not punitive. In other words, the regulation may prohibit underaged service members from drinking alcohol, but it does not raise any punitive charges if the regulation is violated.

Army CCA judges found that the language written in AR 600-85 clearly does not cite or infer any punitive steps to take against service members found in violation of the regulation. It only instructs that the violating service member be referred to the Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP). As such, underage drinking is not a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) Article 92(1).

History of Cases Involving Underage Drinking

Back in 2012, Airman Hayes was convicted for dereliction of duty because he engaged in underage drinking. The court argued he had a “duty” as a military service member to comply with local state laws – in this case, it was Nevada – that made underage drinking illegal. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) would later reverse his conviction, finding that Hayes’ military duties did not include following Nevada’s specific underage drinking law, especially given that the Air Force had no specific regulation barring underage drinking that Hayes should have known to follow. Since he did not violate his duty by violating local law, he could not be convicted for dereliction of duty.

Years later, in late 2019, Army Private Helton was convicted of several charges in U.S. v. Helton, including charges stemming from his underaged drinking while on base. It is in review of this case that the Army CCA found and continued to uphold that underage drinking is not a punitive regulation. The guilty finding for violation of UCMJ Article 92 was set aside and dismissed. However, the other guilty findings in his case were affirmed, as they involved drug crimes like the wrongful use and distribution of cocaine.

Fighting Misplaced Punishments for Underaged Drinking

Helton and Hayes are significant military criminal defense cases in that they have clearly established and reaffirmed that underaged drinking the U.S. Army is not an offense that calls for criminal charges and punishments. Service members who willfully engage in underage drinking can be disciplined through administrative channels.

If you are a military service member who is being accused of a crime simply for drinking while under the legal age of 21, then it is time you stand up for yourself and insist on fair treatment under military law. Military Criminal Defense Attorney Joseph Jordan and his legal team are ready and waiting to defend your rights before the court or during court-martial. With decades of legal experience under his belt – Attorney Joseph Jordan is a former Army prosecutor and a former Army JAG Corps Officer – he is poised to handle your case with insight, knowledge, and persistence that few other attorneys in the world could hope to claim.

Call (888) 616-6177 to connect with Attorney Joseph L. Jordan, who offers his legal defense counsel to military service members in all branches of the Armed Forces and who are stationed at bases around the globe.

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