Because we are in Florida, where there are a lot of military bases, we are often called upon to represent active duty members of our Armed Forces. If you are active-duty military, you need to know some important things about your DUI case.
How your case is handled ordinarily depends on where the alleged violation occurs. If it is on-base, then it will be handled by military authorities. If it is off-base, it will normally proceed in civil court, although it is not impossible for a court-martial to occur as well, especially if there is an accident with property damage or injuries.
- An off-base DUI will likely be handled as a civil misdemeanor charge, rather than a court-martial. The case can be handled either by the civil authorities or by a court-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. However, as a practical matter, there are institutional incentives for the military to allow the county court to handle it. First, the military courts don't have the experience with the complicated issues involved in DUI cases. Their prosecutors simply don't have a lot of knowledge about the Field Sobriety Tests and breath or blood testing. Second, they are government employees, and aren't looking for more work to do, if it can be done adequately by the civil authorities. So they often will leave it to the local civilian prosecutor to pursue.
- Even if your off-base DUI is handled by local prosecutors, your commanding office can take administrative actions against you. They can do this even if you are acquitted of the local court charge. These actions can include loss of pass privileges, education or mandatory substance-abuse counseling. Also, if you were not cooperative with police at the time of your arrest, you can be charged under the UCMJ with Disorderly Conduct, regardless of the outcome of your DUI case in County Court.
- If you are charged in the State Court under local statutes, you will be on your own as far as getting a lawyer to defend you. You may qualify for a Public Defender, or you may have to pay for a private attorney. If you decided to get a private attorney, get the best attorney you can afford. (See our article "Seven Essentials for Avoiding a Bad DUI Attorney here.)
We should note that even if you are charged with an on-base DUI, the authorities can opt to proceed in Federal Court rather than in a court martial. If that happens, the court will likely apply the local law, since there is no federal DUI laws outside of the UCMJ. If you are charged this way, then you need to contact a qualified DUI attorney as soon as possible. Remember, in Florida, as in most other states, you have only ten days before you must take action to protect your right to drive!
If you are charged with a DUI on-base, you probably don't have to worry about the local criminal courts. Your commanding officer has a significant amount of discretion over how your case will be handled, ranging from administrative sanctions (Article 15) up through court martial. So you likely won't be charged under civilian law, but the civilian motor vehicle authorities can still take administrative action against your license. This can include making you attend DUI school and a mandatory alcohol evaluation, or requiring that you install an ignition interlock on any civilian vehicle that you drive.
There are two types of military sanctions for DUI:
- If your CO decides only to impose administrative (Article 15) sanctions, these can include reduction in rank, mandatory alcohol classes, reduction in grade or bar to re-enlistment. And remember, two alcohol-related incidents of misconduct within twelve months can result in separation proceedings.
- If your CO decides to proceed under the UCMJ, you will face a court-martial, which can result in forfeiture of pay, grade reduction, imprisonment, or dismissal from the military. You may also face non-judicial punishments listed in Article 15 of the UCMJ. This type of punishment is sometimes called "Office Hours" or "Captain's Mast."
The good news (if there is any) about an on-base DUI is that you will get a free attorney. Whether you are facing administrative or criminal proceedings, you should contact your local military defense counsel. They can give you advice on how to proceed and will represent you for free if the case proceeds to a court martial. If you can afford it, you may hire private counsel to consult with your appointed attorney.
If you are facing a DUI charge outside of the military justice system, you need to contact an experienced DUI specialist right away.
That's where we come in.