Military DUI: Court Martial and Civilian Charges

Being charged with drunk driving off base could impact you on base as well. If local authorities charge you with drunk driving, your commanding officer may also punish you for misconduct. In those situations, punishment may include extra duty or referral to an alcohol abuse treatment program.

If you're facing a civilian or military DUI, the charges could impact both worlds. When a service member is charged with a DUI on a military installation, she may be subject to an Article 15 or court martial process. 

DUI charges can have serious consequences for uniformed service members. This article explains how the process works, likely punishments, and how the military and civilian justice systems interact. See FindLaw's Military Law and DUI Law sections for more related topics.

Determining Jurisdiction for a Military DUI

Military courts do not have exclusive jurisdiction over DUI charges (as opposed to desertion, for instance), because civilian courts can also have jurisdiction depending on where the incident/arrest took place. If DUI charges are initially filed by both military and civilian authorities, the two entities will often coordinate to decide how the service member will be prosecuted. Keep in mind, though, that a DUI can result in both military and civilian charges and, even if you’re acquitted of DUI charges in civilian court, the military can still take punitive actions against you based on that same incident which could involve a court martial.

While the military generally has jurisdiction over active duty service members and any crimes they commit wherever they take place, the jurisdiction of civilian courts is usually determined by whether the incident took place on a federal military installation (no state jurisdiction) or not as well as the circumstances of any arrest, as noted below:

If You're Arrested for a DUI on Base

You can be charged by the military under authority of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), Section 911: Art. 111 and subject to both a court martial and adverse administrative actions. You will not face civilian criminal charges for the DUI. However, the state may still suspend your license, require use of an interlock device, or impose other non-criminal penalties that affect your driving privileges.

If You're Arrested for a DUI by Civilian Police Off Base

If the state or other civilian authorities charge you with a DUI off of a military installation, you will likely only face criminal charges in civilian court. Still, your commanding officer may concurrently take administrative actions, such as mandatory substance abuse treatment, revocation of pass privileges, or corrective training. The military may also charge you with other crimes related to the incident (disorderly conduct, for example) or could bring DUI charges against you after the conclusion of your civilian case.

If You're a Civilian Arrested for a DUI on Base

You will face DUI charges in federal court, not state court, but the federal court will likely apply the state's DUI laws (since there are no federal DUI laws applying to civilians). This could apply to a service member's civilian family or friends or to civilian employees that work on, or otherwise have access to, a military installation.

Consequences of a Military DUI

If you're arrested and charged with drunk driving while on a military installation, your commanding officer will have a great deal of discretion on how to proceed. He may levy a non-judicial punishment (Article 15), recommend a court martial, and/or take administrative actions against you. The actions generally fall into two categories:

  • Punitive actions: include a court martial (which may result in forfeiture of pay, grade reduction, imprisonment, or dismissal from the military); or non-judicial punishments listed in Article 15 of the UCMJ, often referred to as "Office Hours" or "Captain's Mast."
  • Administrative actions: may include a letter of reprimand; revocation of pass or driving privileges; corrective training (such as a refresher course on military laws); reduction in grade, depending on rank; and a bar to reenlistment. These actions can also include mandatory treatment for substance abuse. Keep in mind that a service member with two serious incidents of alcohol-related misconduct in a 1 year period can face separation proceedings.

Getting Legal Help for a Military DUI

If you're charged with a DUI under the UCMJ (either Article 15 or court martial) consult your local military defense counsel for free confidential advice and to get access to free representation. If you want legal counsel for a civilian DUI charge, you must pay for your own civilian attorney. The Legal Services Locator (provided by U.S. Armed Forces Legal Assistance) and FindLaw's lawyer directory can help you find counsel near you.

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