Civilian Criminal Law and Military Personnel

Having two separate, but concurrent, systems of jurisdiction can be confusing and can also be problematic for service members facing two different punishments for the same crime which, contrary to popular belief, may not be prohibited under double jeopardy rules. 

While military service members are normally subject to laws and punishments under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), there are times when civilian courts also have jurisdiction over crimes committed by service members. This can happen when a service member commits a crime outside of a military installation. As a result, it is that much more important for service members to ensure that they are complying with the laws of their state as well as those of the UCMJ. This section will help you to understand how civilian criminal laws can affect you in conjunction with the UCMJ, particularly as it relates to DUI laws, one of the more common multi-jurisdictional situations that service members can encounter.

For example, a service member who gets into a bar fight off of their base or post, can face criminal charges under the laws of the state where the incident took place. That service member can also face charges under the UCMJ as the military has jurisdiction over the person of the service member and any crimes he or she may commit wherever they take place.

Civilian DUI Laws and Service Members

If you are driving under the influence on a military installation you will likely face charges only under the UCMJ, although states may still be able to take certain non-criminal actions against you based on this incident. This section will help you to understand when and to what extent states can take action against you for a DUI incident on a military installation.

All too often, however, service members receive DUIs when they are off of their post or base. When that happens, both civilian authorities and the military can take criminal action against the service member. This section will describe what actions state authorities and your chain of command can take against you for off-installation DUIs and whether you’re protected by rules against double jeopardy from receiving two different punishments for the same crime.


Any punitive action taken by the military or by civilian authorities can have a significant impact on your career and will largely be driven at the discretion of your chain of command. This section will help you understand the interplay between civilian and military law, what it can mean for your career and livelihood, and what resources are available to you if you’re facing punitive actions by civilian and/or military authorities.

Because as a service member, you can be subject to two different sets of laws, civilian and military, it’s that much more important for you to speak with an attorney if you’re facing any legal actions against you. You’ll normally have access to a free military lawyer, but you should also consider speaking with a civilian lawyer who can help guide you through the laws and procedures of your state.

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