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Charged with a Crime on a Military Base? Find Out Why Where it Happened Matters

by Cory Robert Tuck on Dec. 12, 2018

Criminal 

Summary: Service-members and their families travel on and off base all the time — to go shopping, visit friends and family, or go to local bars and restaurants. Sometimes those visits can result in criminal charges.

Service-members and their families travel on and off base all the time — to go shopping, visit friends and family, or go to local bars and restaurants. Sometimes those visits can result in criminal charges. But if you are charged with a crime on a military base, will you be headed to a civilian criminal court or a court-martial? That depends in part on where it happened.

Military Crimes, Military Court

Some crimes are specifically connected to a person’s service in the U.S. military. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) lays out the law for military crimes. Members of the military who violate the UCMJ can be charged with these crimes and face court-martial in a military court. The UCMJ covers purely military crimes like:

• Mutiny
• Sedition
• Disobeying orders
• Insubordinate conduct

But what about when active-duty servicemembers are off duty? Or when the crimes are separate from your duties as military personnel? If you are charged with a crime on a military base that has nothing to do with your service, will you still face court martial? It depends.

Exclusive Jurisdiction on Army Bases

The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over crimes committed on a military reservation. That includes many army bases like Fort Carson near Colorado Springs. This is one form of “Special Maritime or Territorial Jurisdiction”, which also applies to U.S. ships sailing in international waters and areas with concurrent jurisdiction (discussed below).

When a crime is committed on an Army base or other area with exclusive federal jurisdiction, the federal government, through the military police and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Office of Special Investigations (OSI), or Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) (in cases of serious crimes), investigates the incident and decides whether to file criminal charges within the federal system. If there is no specific law against the behavior under the UCMJ, the federal government may use the “Assimilative Crimes Act” to issue criminal charges based on the laws of the state the federal property is located in.

If you are a civilian charged with a crime on a military base with exclusive federal jurisdiction, you can expect the matter will be resolved through the federal court system. If you are a military member on active duty and are charged with a crime occurring on a military base, you can expect to face a summary, special or general court-martial. In either case, you have a right to be represented by a criminal defense attorney.

Concurrent Jurisdiction on Air Force Bases

Other military establishments, including Pearson Air Force Base, also near Colorado Springs, don’t qualify as a military reservation, but are still controlled by the U.S. military. In these areas, the federal and state court systems have “concurrent jurisdiction”. This is also a form of “Special Maritime or Territorial Jurisdiction”.

On military bases with concurrent jurisdiction either the military police or civilian law enforcement can investigate crimes and press charges. Usually each base has an arrangement with local law enforcement about which organization will handle various types of crimes or circumstances. Depending on that arrangement you could be charged with a crime on a military base but face civilian court charges and civilian jail time.

Your military attorney or JAG officer will generally not be able to represent you in state court, even though you are charged with a crime on a military base. Instead, you will need to hire a civilian criminal defense attorney with military experience who can help you understand the two concurrent systems and the penalties you may face before each court.

Military Service-Members with Off-Base Criminal Charges

Just because you have been assigned to a military base doesn’t mean you spend your entire life on federal property. Some of the most common charges faced by military service-members have to do with conduct outside the military base. Drunk driving, drug use, and other crimes that happen off-base will be investigated by civilian police and charged through the state court system.

But that doesn’t mean a civilian criminal charge won’t have military consequences. A member of the military can’t be charged by both military court and federal court, but you can face both state criminal charges and court-martial for the same behavior. In addition, the consequences of many civilian criminal charges can cause you to be unable to complete your military duties. Depending on the charge and the sentence, you could be ordered to:

• Serve time in a civilian jail
• Surrender all firearms
• Report to probation that conflicts with your military duties

In those cases, you may face additional military consequences even after your civilian criminal trial is complete.

Bridging the Gap Between Civilian and Military Criminal Charges

Facing two different court systems simultaneously can be intimidating. You need to know how what happens in civilian court will affect your military career before you take a plea. That’s why having a criminal defense attorney with military experience makes all the difference.

At Aviso Law, LLC, our criminal defense attorney is a veteran himself. We know how to address concurrent jurisdiction and court-martial issues for service-members facing civilian criminal charges for conduct on a military base. We are here to serve you and will see you through the civilian criminal court process. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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