5 Ways a Military Lawyer Differs From a Civilian Lawyer

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When most people think of a trial, they think of one held in a civilian court. However, not all trials occur in civilian court. Some of them occur in military court. And just like the difference between civilian and military life are great, the difference between a civilian lawyer and a military lawyer is also great.

When Is a Military Court an Option?

Some crimes violate only martial laws, and can only be heard by a military tribunal. These rules apply only to active service members and include mutiny, sedition, insubordinate conduct, and failure to obey orders. But other crimes violate civilian and military laws (like robbery, assault, and murder). In those situations, the accused could be tried in either court. On some occasions, he may be tried in both. Although a service member can’t be tried in a federal and military court for the same crime, he can be tried in a state and military tribunal for the same offense.

Military Lawyer vs. Civilian Lawyer

A military lawyer and a civilian lawyer have different issues to deal with. The laws are different, the processes are different, and the consequences are different.

1. The Lawyers Have Different Rules to Follow

The military court does not have the same code as the civilian court. They use the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The UCMJ is a guide to the process of military law. All cases in the military follow the UCMJ. It describes the court martial process and governs the Marines, Navy, Air Force, Army, and Coast Guard.

2. JAG Corps Handles Military Cases

The Judge Advocate General’s Corps, or JAG Corps, is the team of military lawyers who handle military law. Instead of using civilian lawyers, the military appoints lawyers who are members of the military. This is very different from civilian law, which involves public and private attorneys. Essentially, a military lawyer is a public lawyer.

3. The Appeal Process Differs

In either military or civilian law, you can appeal a decision. However, the process differs. All military appeals go up a specified chain of command. Every branch of the military has their own appeals courts that handle the situation. On the other hand, civilian appeals go through appeals courts and eventually may go to the circuit and federal courts.

4. The Training Is Different

Not just any military service member can be a member of the JAG Corps; they need to be legal attorneys. In addition to those credentials, they also need to undergo special training in handling military law. JAG training is a way for lawyers to learn how to defend their clients in court martials. It prepares them for some of the differences between civilian and military law.

5. The Jury Is Different

In a civilian court, a jury is made up of 12 jurors. According to the Constitution, that jury must consist of peers. Lawyers choose from a pool of potential jurors to pick the 12 who will be part of the jury.

In the military, juries can be much smaller. There may be anywhere between three and 12 jurors; it depends on the type of court martial. Generally, commissioned officers are on the jury. That said, it is possible for someone on trial to request enlisted members on his jury.

Another difference between military and civilian juries is the process. In civilian court, there is the possibility of a hung jury. This occurs when a jury can’t reach a unanimous decision after deliberating. Eliminating the possibility of a hung jury, the military requires that only two-thirds of the jury votes to convict. When less than two-thirds of them votes to convict, there is a not guilty verdict. The only time that the military requires a unanimous decision is when the death penalty is on the table.

Finally, military juries deliver one sentence for all the crimes an individual has committed. In the civilian system, juries vote separately and deliver verdicts for every offence.

Which Type of Court Is Better for Veterans?

If a veteran commits a crime, he can face a military court. But is that a better option than a civilian court? There is no definite answer to the question. Under certain scenarios, a civilian court could be more lenient. The military holds service members up to some high standards and the consequences for not meeting those standards are harsh. So a military court and a military lawyer could be dangerous.

There is a unique opportunity to veterans. A Veterans Treatment Court hears minor criminal cases tat involve veterans. Because so many veterans suffer from mental illness, the court takes that into account. The judges in this court have experience working with veterans who deal with issues like substance abuse and PTSD. Instead of leaving their problems untreated, the judge seeks help for them.

If you are a veteran in legal trouble, you need help deciding the best course of action. Find an experienced attorney who can help you make the right choice.