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How Military Jurisdiction Applies to a DUI Arrest

By San Diego Attorney on December 5, 2021

If you are in the military and charged with DUI, it could impact your life, both on and off base. A DUI conviction can have profound consequences for a service member. Punishment for this offense can involve an interaction between both the military and civilian justice systems.

What Is the UCMJ and When Does It Apply?

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is a federal law enacted in 1950. It applies to all active duty armed service members, activated National Guard and Reserve members, military academy students, and certain civilians. The UCMJ is the principal body of laws governing members of the military, interpreted and enforced by military tribunals.

How Does Jurisdiction Apply to a Service Member Charged With DUI On Base?

Civilian courts have no jurisdiction over incidents that occur on a federal military installation. If you were arrested for DUI on base, you can be charged under the UCMJ and subjected to a court martial and adverse administrative action. Although you will not face civilian criminal charges for DUI, the state can still suspend your driver’s license and require you to have an interlock device installed in your vehicle.

What Are the Three Tiers of Military Courts?

Under the UCMJ, military courts have jurisdiction over all members of the armed services and certain civilians. There are three tiers of military courts:

Courts Martial

This is the trial level of the military justice system. Military commanders are authorized to convene courts martial as necessary to try service members accused of violations of the UCMJ. There are three types of courts martial:

  • Summary courts martial are conducted to adjudicate minor offenses and presided over by a single commissioned officer, who acts as fact finder, counsel, and judge.
  • Special courts martial are usually conducted by a military judge and three or more armed service members. However, armed service members may sit without a judge, or the accused may ask to be tried by a judge only. Special courts martial have jurisdiction over most offenses under the UCMJ. Sentences they impose may include forfeiture or withholding of pay for a limited time, reduction in rank, bad conduct discharge, three months of hard labor, or up to six months confinement.
  • General courts martial are powerful military trial courts, presided over by a military judge and five or more service members or a judge alone, if requested by the accused. These courts may try all offenses under the UCMJ and impose any lawful penalty, including death. General courts martial can only be convened by high-ranking officials.

Courts of Criminal Appeal

These are the intermediate appellate courts under the military justice system. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps each has its own Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA). Established to review court martial convictions, these courts generally consist of a panel of three judges that reviews cases involving severe penalties, such as punitive discharge of an enlisted person, dismissal of a commissioned officer, or more than one year of confinement. The CCA may review findings of fact and law, order a new trial, reduce the sentence, or dismiss the charges.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

Congress established the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (USCAAF) as the highest civilian court responsible for reviewing decisions of military courts. It is an appellate criminal court consisting of three civilian judges, appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate, who serve 15-year terms.

What Happens When an Active Duty Service Person Is Charged With DUI Off Base?

If you are arrested by civilian police and charged with DUI off base, you may face criminal charges in civilian court. You may also be charged with crimes related to the incident by the military. Your best course of action is to contact a San Diego DUI defense attorney as soon as possible.

Call jD LAW, P.C. at (760) 630-2000. Founding attorney James N. Dicks is a former LAPD investigator and a Certified Criminal Law Specialist.

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