Criminal Law

Along with the military’s laws, service members are also subject to the full range of criminal laws that exist in the civilian world.

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.

Service members are unique because they are subject to multiple jurisdictions (military and civilian) for any crime they commit. They have 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, your 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 apply to members serving in its ranks. For example, there are laws that prohibit even casual relationships between service members of different ranks.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)

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.

It specifically covers 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.

You can learn more about the UCMJ below, as well as some of its punitive articles that can have a direct impact on your career in the military. It is important to understand:

  • The court-martial process
  • What to expect if you've been accused of a crime
  • What rights you have throughout the process

These are all important laws and processes to know, even if you're not currently facing criminal charges.

Civilian Criminal Law and Military Personnel

Most Americans are familiar with the legal concept of Double Jeopardy. This is the inability of the government to charge you for the same crime twice. However, that concept does not always apply to service members. They 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. It is important to understand:

  • The often overlapping relationship between civilian and military courts
  • The rights you have in civilian court vs. military court 
  • Exactly what service members can expect in the process

Find a military law attorney for any criminal charges you may be facing or questions you have about legal issues.

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