Should I hire a civilian military attorney?
DO I NEED TO HIRE A CIVILIAN MILITARY ATTORNEY TO HELP ME?
It's a good question.
For criminal cases, Administrative Separation Hearings, and Boards of Inquiry the military will assign a free active duty military attorney (JAG) to represent you, but the fact that you are reading this indicates you know that trusting someone “assigned” to handle the most significant event in your life is at least cause for questioning.
First, you need an attorney at the FIRST sign of trouble. RIGHT NOW!
But active duty military lawyers are usually unavailable to assist until you have formally been charged with a crime, have been told that you will be separated from the military, informed that you will lose your security clearance, etc. MANY cases are lost in those treacherous times between the first sign of trouble and the formal charge. You'll be confronted with dozens of critical decisions that may seem inconsequential but making the wrong choice could do serious damage to your defense.
DON'T MAKE THESE DECISIONS WITHOUT A LAWYER. If you don't have a uniformed military attorney, please find a civilian military attorney to help you now. Until then, we advise our clients to remain silent and demand to speak to an attorney before you answer any questions—from command or law enforcement. EVERYONE you speak to and EVERY word you say can be used against you so. This is true even if you believe the conversation to be "private," or someone promises you confidentiality. With very few exceptions (lawyer, priest, etc.) anyone you speak with may be compelled to tell the authorities what you said.
We can't tell you how often innocent servicemembers suffered by speaking to the authorities because those leaders made them believe that speaking would be “in their best interest” or that “innocent people don't need a lawyer.” WRONG! Innocent people suspected of a crime need a lawyer most. Protect yourself—exercise your rights and call someone who knows how to protect you.
Second, experience matters!
Make no mistake, helping you navigate the treacherous waters you or a loved one are facing takes experience. While the JAGs assigned to represent you are very likely to be motivated, dedicated and talented, they also likely lack this most critical of requirements. The reason? The military tends to assign the duty of defending our servicemembers to junior counsel with relatively little experience in military justice. They may know the rules, they may be aggressive, but EXPERIENCE MATTERS.
"Achieves impressive results, including a not guilty verdict in a complex murder trial." Navy Captain, 1999
Think of it this way: Military culture is to train us to do a job and then send us off to do it, regardless of experience. While many jobs require a fellowship or duty under instruction, where a more experienced ship-driver, pilot, doctor, etc., supervises and trains the less experienced officer for a period of time, that is not always so with JAGs. For example, Don defended his first murder case, with no supervision, when he was six months into his first tour! Defending a client charged with murder after only passing the bar less than two years before is unthinkable in the civilian world, but the military is different. The JAG assigned to represent you, while likely a capable attorney, may not have the desirable level of experience.
Those of us who have retired after practicing military law for decades are humbled by how much we didn't know back when we were junior officers defending clients at courts martial and administrative hearings. Whether you're facing a very delicate spine surgery or a complex board hearing or court martial, EXPERIENCE MATTERS!
"A recognized military justice expert, handpicked to defend the most complex . . . cases, including a Marine charged with espionage and a Commodore charged with dereliction." Commanding Officer, 2004
A word about cost
Hiring an experienced attorney can be a tough financial investment. But don't stop at cost. Weigh that cost against all you or a loved one has to lose. Many in need of an attorney don't understand the high cost of losing at a court martial. Consider these:
You may go to prison and be a convicted felon. Both of these results will not only impact you and your family immediately, they will follow you the rest of your life. You will likely lose your right to vote, to own a firearm, etc. Learn more about the cost of being a convicted felon here.
If the conviction involves a sex offense, you'll experience significant negative impacts in your life. The Nation's sex offender registration laws are draconian and extremely severe. You'll likely be required to register as a sex offender on public, searchable websites like these. You may never be able to live near schools or parks; you may be prohibited from being around children, attending your children's functions, or coaching their teams; and you'll be required to disclose this information to on employment applications. This status may also impact your ability to attend institutes of higher education. Learn more about these impacts here.
You may lose your job, your housing allowance, your medical insurance. Depending on your rank, these benefits can easily add up to over $50-120,000 per year. Getting medical insurance as a civilian will likely cost more than $12,000 per year for an individual and twice that for a family.
You may lose your retirement. The loss of your retirement alone could equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost income to you and your family.
You may lose your VA benefits. Most junior servicemembers don't understand the value of VA benefits. The best known is perhaps the GI-Bill, which will provide you or a family member nearly $100,000 in education benefits. But there are others, home loans, life insurance, health care, the list goes on. Check here to learn more about the value of the benefits you have earned.
You may be required to pay back enlistment bonuses or Academy education expenses. Academy educations are valued as high as $200,000 and the government will likely "garnish" any future income to recoup these costs.
You may face a lifetime of difficulty in getting future jobs. Most employers will know if you have been separated from the military for disciplinary reasons. If you have a court martial conviction, you will have a felony record, making federal, state or local government jobs nearly impossible to obtain and getting hired into most well-paying civilian jobs very difficult.
Be Informed! Click here to learn more about the consequences of a conviction.
These costs are not listed to scare you, but to inform you. Too often, clients don't consider these costs. Please consider them now. There is an INCREDIBLE amount riding on the outcome of this process…you are absolutely correct in searching for the best team to help you fight to avoid these outcomes. An experienced legal team can make a world of difference in that fight.
Whether you team up with Don or another experienced civilian military lawyer, or decide to go forward with your uniformed attorney, make sure you have as much experience on your team as possible.
If you have additional questions, please give us a call and let us see if we can help.
King Military Law: Decades of Experience in YOUR Corner--When Experience Matters Most