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Military Law and Court-Martial Defense

Members of the United States Armed Forces are governed by a different set of laws than other Americans, and they are tried before different courts than other Americans.  Although the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard have different rules and regulations governing each service, all service members, regardless of service, are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  Offenses in the UCMJ are identified by article.

Our Military Experience

Dennis Boyle has had a long and successful career in the United States Navy and has represented hundreds of service members in the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard before military courts-martial and on appeal before the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals and the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces.  Many of these military members have been officers and senior enlisted personnel.  After 21 years of active and reserve service, Mr. Boyle retired from the Navy Reserve with the rank of Commander.  His last assignment before retirement was as a Commissioner on the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals.

After graduating first in his class from Naval Justice School in 1988, Mr. Boyle’s first duty station was overseas on the island of Guam in the South Pacific.  From there, he was transferred to the USS Saratoga where he served as legal officer during the First Persian Gulf War.  After two years on the Saratoga, Mr. Boyle was transferred to Naval Legal Service Office Mayport, Florida where he served as the senior legal officer until leaving active duty in 1992.  In the Reserve, he served in a variety of positions in the Office of the Judge Advocate General in Washington DC, as a military defense counsel and as a Commissioner where he reviewed courts-martial convictions from the Navy and the Marine Corps.

Many of Mr. Boyle’s military cases included allegations of rape, sexual assault, sexual assault of a child, narcotics distribution and fraud.  He tried cases throughout the Pacific including Japan, the Philippines, Spain, Italy and in the Middle East.  Stateside, he tried military cases in Florida, Georgia, Virginia and in Washington, DC.

While a knowledge of military procedure and culture is absolutely necessary to becoming a successful military defense lawyer, an intricate knowledge of criminal defense law is even more important.   For non-military offenses (those offenses that are illegal in both civilian and military jurisdictions), knowledge and experience in criminal law is crucial.  A rape, sexual assault or narcotics distribution is an extremely serious matter regardless of the type of court in which it is tired.

Commander Boyle has been recognized as a Super Lawyer in the area of criminal law.  He has tried over 200 criminal jury trials.  If you face serious criminal matters in the military, he is the attorney you need.

Do You Need a Civilian Defense Counsel?

The short answer to this question is: it depends.  Military Judge Advocates who serve as defense counsel tend to be good attorneys, and in many cases, there is simply no reason to retain civilian counsel.  If the accused is facing a charge of AWOL or Unauthorized Absence and does not care if he or she receives a punitive discharge (Bad Conduct Discharge) then there is probably no need to retain civilian counsel.  Also, if the civilian counsel lacks court-martial experience and extensive trial experience, the benefits of retaining civilian defense counsel may be marginal.

On the other hand, the right civilian defense counsel can make a difference.  An experienced civilian counsel can bring decades of experience to a court-martial.  In addition, a civilian defense counsel is not subject to chain-of-command influence and is free to take actions that would be difficult or impossible for a military defense counsel.  Also, when the accused retains civilian counsel, he or she does not lose his or her military defense.  The accused therefore has the benefit of two defense attorneys.

The Punitive Articles of the UCMJ

The punitive articles of the UCMJ range from Article 77 to Article 134; however, many of these Articles have several offenses under the Article, and the last two Articles are “catch-all” Articles.  Article 133, Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and Gentlemen criminalizes any conduct the service considers inappropriate for an officer.  Article 134, the General Article, punishes any conduct that is “. . .prejudicial to good order and discipline. . .” or “. . .brings discredit upon the Armed Forces. . .”.

Some offenses under the UCJ are the same as civilian criminal offenses.  Other Articles are purely military offenses, meaning there are civilian equivalents. Purely military offenses can be extremely serious.  Desertion under Article 85, for example, carries a maximum punishment of death if it occurs during time of war (actions in Iraq and Afghanistan being considered wars).

Some of the more serious military crimes analogous to civilian crimes are:

  • Murder under Article 118 of the UCMJ.
  • Manslaughter under Article 119 of the UCMJ.
  • Rape and Sexual Assault under Article 120 of the UCMJ.
  • Rape of Sexual Assault of a Child under Article 120b of the UCMJ.
  • Larceny and Wrongful Appropriation under Article 121 of the UCMJ.
  • False Pretense (Fraud) under Article 121b of the UCMJ.
  • Offenses concerning government computers under Article 123 of the UCMJ.
  • Possession, Distribution, use of Controlled Substances under Article 112a of the UCMJ.

These are some examples of some of the non-military offenses in the UCMJ.  There are many other theft, fraud, assault and obstruction of justice articles than one would expect to see in a state or federal criminal code.  In addition to these commonly understood criminal offenses, there are a number of unique military offenses.  Some of the more common ones are:

  • Desertion under Article 85 of the UCMJ.
  • Absent without Leave (AWOL in the Army, Unauthorized Absence in the Navy) under Article 86 of the UCMJ.
  • Disrespect toward Superior Commissioned Officer under Article 89 of the UCMJ.
  • Cruelty and Maltreatment under Article 93 of the UCMJ.
  • Mutiny and Sedition under Article 94 of the UCMJ.
  • Conduct Unbecoming an Officer under Article 133 of the UCMJ.

Types of Courts-Martial and Court-Martial Procedure

There are three type of courts-martial: general courts-martial, special courts-martial and summary courts-martial.  Summary courts-martial are reserved for minor offenses and cannot result in a discharge from the military (although an administrative discharge could follow a summary courts-martial).

  • General Court-Martial Maximum Punishment: Death, confinement for life, forfeiture of all pay and a Dishonorable Discharge.
  • Special Court-Martial Maximum Punishment (Enlisted Personnel): Confinement for up to one year, forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for up to one year and Bad Conduct Discharge.

General and special courts-martial are convened by a “Convening Authority”, an officer vested with authority to order courts-martial.  A Military Judge, a senior member of the service’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, presides over the trial.  The accused has the right to be tried either by military judge alone or by “members”.  The members of a court-martial are officers, although in some cases senior enlisted members can be designated.  Superficially, trial by members in a court-martial appears to be similar to civilian juries; however, there are significant differences.  First, unlike civilian juries, military juries do not have to be unanimous to convict or acquit.  Second, rather than having twelve jurors, general courts-martial are only required to have five members and special courts-martial are only required to have three members.

Courts-martial also have their own unique procedural rules, the Rules for Courts-Martial (RCM) and their own rules of evidence, the Military Rules of Evidence (MRE).  Any attorney, civilian or military, who represents service members before courts-martial must be familiar with these rules.  The MRE’s are similar to the Federal Rules of Evidence.  The RCM’s, however, differ significantly from the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Another unique feature of military justice is that in the military, the accused can elect to be sentenced either by the military judge or the members of the court.

Appeals of Court-Martial Convictions

Following a conviction and the imposition of sentence by a court-martial, the conviction and sentence are reviewed by the officer who initially referred the case for trial.  The officer exercising court-martial jurisdiction can approve or disapprove the findings of the court-martial, modify the finding (as long as they are not more severe) or order further proceedings.  Once the convening authority takes action, the case can then be reviewed by the services, Court of Criminal Appeals.  The Courts of Criminal Appeals are composed of senior members of the Judge Advocate’s Corp.  Legal and factual errors are reviewed by the respective Court of Criminal Appeals which has the authority to reverse a conviction or sentence.

After a case has been reviewed within the military system, a convicted military member can appeal to the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces.

Commander Boyle’s next to last assignment in the Navy was as the Executive Officer in an Appellate Defense Unit.  In that capacity, he represented members of the Navy and Marine Corp before the Navy-Marine Corp Court of Criminal Appeals and the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces.  His last assignment was as a Commissioner on the Navy-Marine Court of Criminal Appeals. He is familiar with appeals and the operations of the Courts or Appeals.  Commander Boyle is uniquely qualified to be your legal advocate in your criminal matter.  Contact us today.