What Happens If You Commit A Crime In The Military?


Scenario: You have been involved in some form of altercation while off-base or on leave, and now you are facing arrest.

If you are arrested while serving in the military, what are your options? Continue reading this article to discover more about how expressing your legal rights may have a profound impact on your military service.

The Importance of Geographic Location

What happens to you if you are arrested has a lot to do with the location of the (alleged) crime. If you commit a crime while stationed in the military, there is a strong probability that the military may be the ones to prosecute you. When you are caught driving after a night of drinking, for example, you will have to face a military court. Nevertheless, it is important to contact a criminal attorney to help you with this matter.

On-base drinking with friends might get you in legal hot water, depending on where you go and who you are with. The military can impose punishments such as confinement on base, substance abuse treatment, and disorderly conduct penalties, while the state can prosecute a DUI case against you. Off-base crimes are often tried in federal military courts rather than civilian courts. Robbery, rape, and murder are just a few examples of offenses that may fall outside local law enforcement’s authority. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) allows the federal government to step in when serious allegations are brought against a service member.

Submit A Civilian Arrest Report

Did you know that if civilian authorities detain you, you must notify your commanding officer? If you fail to inform the military justice system of the arrest promptly, you could be subject to severe punishments.

Remember that informing your commanding officer of your arrest does not constitute an admission of guilt. As a defendant, you have rights under the UCMJ, including the right to stay quiet/remain silent and to be represented by counsel during your trial.

Know that you have rights and use them!

Expulsion from the Military

A significant offense might result in dismissal from service in the military, especially if it is not your first arrest. Dishonourable discharges generally means losing access to veterans’ benefits, including healthcare and education.

For those detained while in the military, it is essential to know what will happen next. Regardless of the location of the arrest, you must notify your commanding officer and prepare for the process that follows, which may include military punishments and even expulsion.

After learning about military crimes, it is time to talk about what not to do if you find yourself facing criminal charges for a military offense.

1. Do Not Give Up Your Rights

To avoid making a mistake like this, service members should never forgo their right to a lawyer/attorney before speaking with one.

If you have been informed of your rights and choose to speak with/be interviewed by military investigators (e.g. NCIS or military police) despite this, you are taking a risky step without the guidance of a lawyer who has your best (legal) interests at heart. Just because you are being cooperative does not mean you have to give up your right to counsel. Do not think twice to call a lawyer if you believe you are being unjustly charged or otherwise.

2. Wait for your Lawyer to Arrive before Speaking to Investigators

Always keep in mind that you can not get out of this one by making small talk. A generalised blunder of service members is their belief that they can talk their way out of an investigation simply by cooperating. It is imperative that you speak to your lawyer prior to questioning by investigators, as your lawyer will found out the nature of the accusation and also aid you in preventing any (accidental or otherwise) self-incrimination.

A lawyer can help you be on a more level ‘playing field’ with investigators.

Further Reading

You can find a PDF version of the UCMJ here @ the Joint Service Committee on Military Justice website.


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