When facing a military trial, it is critical that you are represented by an experienced and dedicated court-martial lawyer and military attorney. Your life and good name depend on it.
US Military Courthouse Camp Liberty, Iraq
The most serious criminal allegations are handled by military criminal courts--Courts-Martial. Like any other criminal trial court, a judge presides while teams of prosecutors face court-martial attorneys in a battle of proving, and disproving, guilt. When chosen, a jury may decide both guilt and punishment. A court-martial can destroy future employment opportunities, your family, and your good name. For most individuals, a court-martial is the most important event of their relatively short lives.
Make no mistake. This is serious business. Courts-martial can send someone to jail, take all rank and money, and give a Bad-Conduct Discharge or Dishonorable Discharge. For all types of military trials, it is imperative that you obtain the services of a quality and experienced court-martial lawyer to fight the charges against you. You want someone who is experienced, well-spoken, understands the process, and willing to spend time getting to know you and your circumstances.
Courts-martial come in three different types, and each has distinct advantages and disadvantages.
This is somewhere between nonjudicial punishment and higher-level courts-martial. You face being reduced in rank, up to 30 days in jail (lower enlisted members), forfeiture of pay, and restriction/extra duty. While less severe when compared to the other types of court-martial, it can still take away your freedom, destroy your career, and provide framework for an administrative separation.
The scariest part of the Summary Court-Martial process is that you generally do not have a court-martial attorney in the room with you. Therefore, you need someone to educate you on the process and give you the tools necessary to walk into the room prepared to fight for yourself. For Summary Courts-Martial, I spend time giving you the paperwork and knowledge necessary to fully fight the charges against you. I take as much time as is necessary to do this, and I remain available for consultation while you are in court. With me, you will never be alone at a Summary Court-Martial, because you have more options when you hire civilian counsel.
When you hire civilian counsel, you also have the option of having the civilian court-martial lawyer present in the room during the hearing. Military trial defense court-martial attorneys usually avoid these proceedings because of the rules for court-martial and their high caseloads as public defenders. Why go this alone when you have the power to have someone familiar with Summary Courts-Martial next to you? Never underestimate the assistance that can be provided by a court-martial lawyer.
Special Court-Martial (Sometimes called BCD-Special)
These are the Army’s equivalent to civilian misdemeanor court, and they can reduce servicemembers to the grade of E-1, take all pay, jail for up to 12 months, and issue a Bad-Conduct Discharge. While this is a lesser court than a General Court-Martial, it is still dangerous. You may lose a year of your life, get a criminal record, and suffer the impact of a Bad-Conduct Discharge for the rest of your life. Never go down this path alone.
I stand at your side for every significant step in this process. As part of your defense team, I evaluate the evidence, your history, and the court in order to provide you with the best solution possible.
This is the big one, and it has the potential of taking away your freedom forever. The equivalent of a civilian felony court, it is limited only by the maximum punishment of the charges against you, and that means the additional possibility of a Dishonorable Discharge.
Because of the dire consequences of this process, you must assemble a team to fight for your rights and those things that are important to you. Going this path alone is virtual suicide, and you must find someone who is experienced and skilled as a trial attorney. The work begins before charges are brought, through an Article 32 hearing, and then to trial with a Judge or Panel (Jury). Going forward alone or with inexperienced counsel is not fair to you or those who care about you.
Considerations when hiring a court-martial lawyer:
Your court-martial lawyer represents you through this difficult event. Also, he educates you on the choices you have and the effects of those choices. When considering court-martial attorneys, research the following:
- Does the court-martial lawyer have experience with the subject matter of your case?
- Will your court-martial attorney consider pleading guilty first, or will he start by considering the ways to fight for a not guilty verdict or withdrawal of charges?
- How many other cases is your court-martial lawyer currently balancing? How much personal attention can he give to your case?
- What types of motions will your court-martial attorney consider in your case?
- How well will your court-martial lawyer be able to communicate and persuade your jury (panel)? What type of credibility does he have? Was he ever in the military? If he was in the military, what type of experience does he have? Was your court-martial lawyer only a JAG, or did he serve in a branch such as Infantry, Aviation, Field Artillery, etc?
- Does your court-martial lawyer have a plan, or is he merely going to react to what the government does?
- What will your court-martial attorney do before the trial to potentially get the case thrown-out or set the stage for a more favorable trial?
- Does your court-martial lawyer understand the possible immigration law aspects of your case, or does he have access to knowledge on this same subject?
- Is your court-martial lawyer thinking about second and third-order effects of your decisions? Does he or she realize that a single decision before, during, or after trial can cause a chain of events that effect your life forever?
A few additional considerations are:
- Costs. Some court-martial lawyers are cut-rate advocates. In other words, they represent many clients in one year and charge relatively cheap fees. They focus on volume. Just remember, you get what you pay for. Would you rather have an attorney who is balancing 10-20 other courts-martial, or would you rather have one who focuses on less than 5 each year. Remember, you are trusting your good name and freedom to this court-martial attorney.
- Time. Are you a priority to your lawyer or just another number? Will they appear at all of your hearings? How much time will the court-martial lawyer spend in preparing for your Article 32? How much preparation will be spent on your actual trial. In Mr. Mayer's last court-martial, he spent over 50 hours in preparation alone (not including travel and the actual trial). However, remember that time is merely one indication of dedication. A court-martial lawyer knows that you deserve his time.
- Team. By hiring a civilian counsel, you keep your appointed military court-martial lawyer. Does your civilian counsel want to be the lead counsel? They should. How do they intend to incorporate the military court-martial attorney? Do they intend to work as a team or as a solo?
- Communications. You want (and need) to communicate with your attorney in a secure manner. What does your court-martial lawyer do to ensure the safety of your data and communications? This is of vital importance.
(The photo above was taken by Eric Mayer during a court-martial in Baghdad, Iraq.)
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