Free military defense attorneys are often new to the uniform and new to the law. On most military installations, military defense counsel are far out-numbered by the number of military prosecutors. The military defense office, on the other hand, is under-staffed with O-3s, most who have no prior trial experience whatsoever. Even though they are O-3s, many of them have only been in uniform, much less attorneys, for only a few years. The senior attorney who supervises each office often has never been a defense attorney before. The only O-5 in a supervisory role over defense attorneys is a regional defense counsel who is stretched thin over multiple installations. Each military defense office is reliant on the government for its day-to-day budget, office supplies, and even training funds.
With the resources and personnel so skewed against the military trial defense office, it becomes even more important that the service members’ lawyer be more experienced and knowledgeable about the military justice system. Many commentators boast that the military justice system is far more fair than most civilian systems because of alleged greater protections; none of these protections matters if you are represented by an attorney who does not know how to take full advantage of these protections.
You should be up-front and confront the issue head on: ask the military lawyer a series of questions to find out exactly how much experience they have.
Some suggested questions are:
1. How long have you been a licensed attorney?
2. How long have you been a JAG?
3. How long have you practiced criminal law?
4. How long have you practiced criminal law in the military?
5. How many courts-martial have you tried?
6. How many of those courts-martial were contested (where the accused person pleaded not guilty)?
7. How many of your courts-martial were just guilty pleas?
8. How many of your courts-martial were you the lead counsel?
9. How many of your courts-martial were you the second chair?
10. Of the cases that you took to trial, how many did you win?
Military lawyers often boast about their level of experience without any real proof. The Army has created a tracking system to categorize their lawyers by classification. This classification scheme is known as ASI or Additional Skills Identifier for military justice. An attorney’s ASI is a direct reflection of the number of years they have spent in court-martial practice, the number of total cases tried including a distinction between those they tried as the lead counsel versus those they sat second-chair, and how many cases were contested versus guilty pleas in addition to how many trainings they have undergone. There are four possible classifications, ASI1, ASI2, ASI3, and ASI4. For more details about the ASI system, please click here. Ms. Stewart was awarded ASI3 as a captain in December 2009. Please note that Ms. Stewart was not able to achieve ASI4 prior to leaving active duty because there is a requirement to serve in one or more positions, which are all relegated to those who are O-5 and O-6. Proof of Ms. Stewart’s ASI is here. ASI certification is also located on the attorney’s ORB. Don’t be afraid to ask your military attorney for proof of their ASI. Be wary of a military attorney who tells you that they “haven’t bothered to apply.” Military practitioners who are serious about practicing criminal law will have applied, assuming they meet the minimum requirements for at least ASI1.
The Navy has developed a criminal justice tract for its judge advocates, which requires a certain level of experience and acceptance into the continued practice of military justice. Ask your appointed Navy or Marine Corps attorney if they have been accepted to the military justice tract or if they are making plans to apply.
Being a former service member herself and working exclusively on military cases, Ms. Stewart has amassed experience to help in the following areas of the UCMJ:
When faced with the decision of hiring a UCMJ specialist, Ms. Stewart’s former clients explain all that is necessary about her commitment to their case and her expertise in handling the toughest legal battles. Learn more about her unique abilities in the words of her clients, peers, and military judges.