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Court Martial: Do I Need a Military or a Civilian Defense Attorney?

October 24, 2017 By Jeff King

A court martial can involve strictly military-based accusations, like desertion, or more general crimes like manslaughter or arson. In either situation, when facing a general-court martial or a special-court martial, the accused service member may be appointed a free military defense attorney. Military service members facing a court martial also have the option of retaining a civilian defense lawyer to protect their rights and freedom. Under what circumstances is it advisable to do so?


Benefits of a civilian defense lawyer


Benefits of a privately retained civilian lawyer include:


  • Earlier involvement – Some of the most important steps in a military case can take place before you are charged. If you are entitled to a military defense attorney, you will not receive one until after you have been charged — by then it will be too late to take preventative measures that might have made it possible to avoid charges entirely.
  • Choice in representation – An appointed military lawyer is just that – appointed. If your personalities are not compatible or you disagree on approach, there is no trading in for a new lawyer. Retaining civilian counsel allows you to choose a lawyer you feel you can work well with.
  • Double the representation – A civilian defense attorney does not replace an appointed military attorney. Instead, they can – and should – work together, allowing them to handle complex situations more thoroughly and give a wider perspective to the case. This can essentially be turned into a situation of two for the price of one.
  • Time, experience, and independence – Unfortunate negative stereotypes about appointed military counsel abound, including that they are inexperienced, too overworked to be effective, or bound to their uniform rather than your best interests. In reality, there are many dedicated and effective military attorneys. Nonetheless, personally-retained civilian counsel adds a valuable layer of protection when facing a court martial.


Choosing a civilian military defense attorney


If you are facing a potential court martial, the best thing you can do is speak with a trustworthy and experienced civilian military defense attorney. Be sure it is someone who will give you an honest answer about whether retaining personal counsel is likely to have an impact on your case. In many cases the answer will be yes, but in other cases, it will be no.


Experience in military law is far less common than experience in general criminal law, so be sure your attorney is well-versed in military cases. Dallas, Texas-based military criminal defense attorney Jeff King is a former Marine judge advocate with more than a decade of experience defending members of the armed services in TX and throughout the world. Jeff understands the system and is ready to step in early and strong. Call today to discuss your legal options.


Additional Court Martial Resources:

  1. Uniform Code of Military Justice, Punitive Articles,
  2. Library of Congress, Manual for Courts-Martial United States (2012 Edition),
or CALL 469-399-7001
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