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Limited Rights to Privacy in Military Housing and the UCMJ

Whether or not members of your unit, your command, and even military law enforcement can enter your military housing can be a complicated issue.

Military family housing is a type of private residence. It is true that the military “owns” the buildings used for military family housing, and often those quarters are leased through an on-post housing company. Despite all that, residents of government quarters retain their rights to private and against unlawful search and seizure, even if the home is on-base.

But that does not mean that military law enforcement or your unit always need your consent to come in.

Agents of the government may sometimes enter a private residence without the consent of the owner, provided certain legal requirements are met. On military installations, private quarters (or certain places or even containers within the residence) may be searched if a search authorization has been given by a competent authority like a military judge, federal judge, or installation commander (based on probable cause that there will be evidence of a crime found in that location). The process to search military quarters or housing is similar to how civilian police use a search warrant enter private homes.

There are also circumstances where government officials can enter private homes without a warrant. One is when emergency or “exigent” circumstances exist, such as if the building is on fire, or a crime is believed to be happening at that time inside, or if a person’s life, health, safety is immediately at risk. Law enforcement also may be able to engage in pursuit if the member is fleeing to their residence and there’s the potential for destruction of evidence.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly acknowledged that a person’s home is their most private physical space. This holds true for military quarters also. Despite inherent privacy interests, illegal searches still happen. Commanders don’t always get it right: sometimes other regulations or rules can cause military law-enforcement or commanders to think they can do things that they legally cannot.

Do not put yourself in a position where you may be violating the order of your command or law enforcement. State clearly that you do not consent to a search, but do not get yourself into more hot water by obstructing their entry.

If you are under investigation and / or someone has entered your home without your permission for any reason, you should get legal advice from a competent and experienced military attorney.

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