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Hung Out to Dry –Military Personnel and DUI Prosecutions

Alcohol is a common factor in several UCMJ criminal complaints.  

Regardless of the branch of service, often military personnel find themselves accused of criminal misconduct after ingesting some (or copious amounts of) alcohol.  Military installations have little crime and lots of visibility, which means almost every allegation gets fully investigated and prosecuted.  Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coastguardsmen and Marines need the assistance of a competent defense attorney.  If a servicemember gets in a fight, breaks property, makes a fool of him/herself (drunk and disorderly), or even light things on fire, he will get an appointed military defense counsel.  Drinking and driving (both on and off base) is the lone exception.  

This uneven treatment of DUI offenses is the byproduct of how military services handle DUI cases.  In the 1980s, widespread public pressure began to build on elected officials to get tough on drunk driving offenses.  This led to a national effort to increase enforcement measures and punishments to combat drunk driving.  Congress mandated that every state had to adopt the .08 blood alcohol level or federal money would be withdrawn.  In return, most states added laws that revoke licenses for those drivers refusing breath tests.  The Department of Defense followed suit by directing all services to come up with a rigorous enforcement plan for DUIs.  Alcohol-related driving offenses that were once handled at the unit level through Article 15 proceedings and local actions have now become the most consistently prosecuted type of crime on military installations.  All services now follow Army Regulation 190-5, under which an arrest alone will get your driving privileges suspended.  Even if a servicemember consents to a breath test and the BAC level is below .08, an arrest report will net the same result as a direct refusal to submit to a breath test:  automatic suspension of on-post driving privileges.  On top of that, a General Officer Letter of Reprimand will be drafted even before a court date is set.  Even though these are military adverse actions, they rank far down the priority list for military defense counsel and are often handled by junior counsel in legal assistance positions rather than attorneys trained to defend servicemembers against criminal charges.

Prosecution in federal court follows.  Servicemembers arrested for DUI on a military installation are not eligible for assistance of trial defense counsel, who lack jurisdiction in federal court.  Servicemen and women are left to navigate their own DUI defense.  On the other hand, federal prosecutions of on-base DUI arrests get plenty of resources thanks to active-duty Judge Advocates serving as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys (SAUSA), meaning a servicemember charged with an on-post DUI will likely be prosecuted by a judge advocate wearing civilian attire. Those who find themselves on the receiving end of a DUI prosecution are left to fend for themselves or hire one of the handful of random local attorneys who stop by the federal courthouse on military days and scoop up servicemembers desperate for legal representation.  

In order to ensure that military servicemembers assigned to one of the several military installations in Western Washington state are protected, the Law Office of Jocelyn C Stewart, Corp. has added an attorney specifically licensed and qualified to handle DUI cases in US Magistrate and District Courts.  We will walk you through the process, engage the prosecution early and aggressively so that you are not alone.  Our office will help you navigate a system we are experienced in handling to ensure your rights are upheld.  Reaching out early is best.  For anyone asking whether or not you are required to notify your command of a DUI arrest off the military installation, you need to call us first. Obtaining advice from qualified counsel is the best thing you can do to help yourself in these situations.  

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