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If you are in the military and find yourself in state court, either as a party to a civil case such as a divorce or as a defendant in a criminal case, your lawyer should know what effect the state court actions may have on your military career. There is a perception by some in uniform that what they do in their private, off-duty lives bears little or no bearing on their military career. Unfortunately, some learn the falsity of this perception only after suffering an adverse action in the military based on something that happened in a state courtroom.

To illustrate this point, we will consider two fictional but realistic scenarios. In the first, assume Staff Sergeant Jones and her husband have decided to separate and Jones’ spouse has filed a petition in state court seeking a divorce. The couple has two minor children and the issue of custody is the main point of contention in the divorce proceedings. Although things began amicably, the dispute soon becomes intensely personal with both parties hurling accusations of various misdeeds against the other in an effort to persuade the court of the other’s unfitness as a parent. At a hearing on the matter, Staff Sergeant Jones’ spouse testifies that Jones is in the habit of drinking a twelve-pack of beer a night, often in front of the children, is verbally and physically abusive towards him, and has been dating a senior male member of her unit. Jones’ spouse has also written a letter to Jones’ military command making similar complaints and adds that Jones has not provided him any financial support during their separation even though she is still drawing a housing allowance at the higher “with dependents” rate.

Obviously Jones and her lawyer will attempt to rebut the charges but the allegations could have far-reaching effects on Jones’ military career. For example, the drinking and abusive conduct could result in her command referring her for dependency screening and treatment or a family advocacy investigation which may affect promotion opportunities and eligibility for security clearances or future duty stations. The command may also open an investigation into alleged fraternization or adultery charges which could result in disciplinary action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  Depending on the specific charges, such action could be non-judicial punishment (NJP) or court-martial. Finally, the failure to provide financial support may lead to additional administrative or disciplinary action. As you can see, it is vitally important that Jones and her lawyer take aggressive actions, both in state court and in dealing with the military, to protect her interests.

In our second example, assume that Lieutenant Doe is driving home from an afternoon social event at which he had several beers. He is off-base but is stopped by the police for suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) after the officer noticed him weaving in and out of traffic without using a turn signal. Doe is arrested and charged with DUI. Doe’s first question may be whether he has an obligation to report his arrest to his military command and any military or criminal defense lawyer he consults should be aware of the various reporting requirements and directives each service has with respect to reporting such arrests. Doe should also be concerned with what actions the military may take against him as a result of this arrest. It is not uncommon for the military to take separate disciplinary or adverse administrative action against someone based on a civilian arrest even while the charge is still pending adjudication in state court. Here again, the actions taken could range from NJP to court-martial. The Double Jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution offers no defense to such actions since the state and Federal governments are separate sovereign entities but Doe and his criminal defense lawyer may raise any other defenses to challenge the arrest within the military system.

In summary, if you are in the military and involved in any legal proceedings before a state criminal or civil court, you and your lawyer should be aware of the effect actions taken in state court may have on your military career. If you have questions about your legal rights, you should consult with an attorney who has experience in both civilian and military jurisdictions. If you have specific questions about your case, call The Law Office of Eric Roper for a free initial consultation.