Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
Just like the civilian world, the military has a variety of laws to help maintain order and discipline in its ranks. In some ways, criminal laws in the military can be more expansive than those in the civilian world, given its unique role and mission in society. Along with the military’s laws, however, service members are also subject to the full range of criminal laws that exist in the civilian world. This puts them in the unique position of being subject to multiple jurisdictions (military and civilian) for any crime they commit and having to comply with laws that do not apply to everyday citizens. This article will describe the military criminal law system as well as the interplay between civilian law and military law and what it can mean for service members like you.
Military Criminal Law
Coming out of basic training, you're first inclination is probably to think that every action not authorized by a drill instructor is a criminal violation. That's not the case, but it is true that the military has a unique set of criminal laws that it applies to members serving in its ranks, for example, laws that prohibit even casual relationships between service members of different ranks.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ, contains the punitive articles containing the military's criminal laws. The UCMJ, as well as the Manual for Courts-Martial, also establishes the military's criminal justice system, specifically the procedures involved in a court-martial, which is the military's version of a civilian criminal court. There are important laws and regulations covering the court-martial process, from the rights of a defendant during questioning and the preferral (or initiation) of charges to a defendant’s rights on appeal.
This section will explain the UCMJ, as well as some of its punitive articles which can have a direct impact on your career in the military. It will also describe the courts-martial process, both what to expect if you've been accused of a crime and what rights you have throughout the process, which are important to know even if you're not facing criminal charges.
Civilian Criminal Law and Military Personnel
Most Americans are familiar with the legal concept of Double Jeopardy, that is, the inability of the government to charge you for the same crime twice. However, that concept does not always apply to service members, who can face criminal charges (and separate punishments) from civilian and military authorities for the same actions. One area where service members can see this up close is with DUI laws. This section will cover the often overlapping relationship between civilian and military courts and what rights service members can expect in the process.
This section will provide you with important resources if you find yourself facing criminal charges. Whether the charges are brought by civilian or military authorities, they can have a significant impact on your military career and livelihood. Given the differing layer of rights provided service members in civilian courts and in military courts-martial and the possible deadlines and waivers for such rights, it's important for you to immediately contact an attorney to assist you in the process.
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