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Last Updated on: 7th October 2023, 02:46 pm
Pennsylvania Military Criminal Lawyers – Your Guide to Finding the Right Defense
If you are a member of the military facing criminal charges in Pennsylvania, having the right lawyer by your side is crucial. Military law is complex and the consequences for convictions are severe. This article will provide an overview of military criminal law in Pennsylvania and tips for finding an experienced attorney to represent you.
Common Criminal Charges in Military Courts
Some of the most common criminal offenses tried in military courts include:
- Sexual assault
- Domestic violence
- Drug use and distribution
- Violent crimes like assault and homicide
- Larceny and fraud
The military has a zero tolerance policy for many of these offenses. Without an experienced trial lawyer, defendants can face harsh penalties like dishonorable discharge, rank reduction, confinement, and loss of benefits.
Unique Aspects of Military Criminal Law
There are some important differences between civilian and military courts that defendants need to understand:
- Military courts operate under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), not civilian criminal codes.
- Special military trial courts called Courts Martial hear cases, not civilian courts.
- Punishments in military courts can include loss of rank, pay, confinement, dishonorable discharge, and other military-specific penalties.
- Defendants don’t have the same constitutional rights as civilians in some aspects – like the right to a jury trial.
Because military law is so unique, having a lawyer who specializes in courts martial and the UCMJ is critical.
Finding the Right Pennsylvania Military Lawyer
When facing a military trial in Pennsylvania, here are some tips for choosing the right defense lawyer:
- Find an experienced military law specialist – You want a lawyer who focuses specifically on military cases and courts martial, not a general practice attorney.
- Select someone familiar with your base – Local knowledge of the military base, command staff, and courts martial procedures is invaluable.
- Get recommendations from military colleagues – Talk to others who have been through courts martial to get recommendations on lawyers.
- Meet for a consultation – Schedule consults with a few military lawyers before deciding who to hire.
- Understand the fees – Military trials can be lengthy so understand the lawyer’s fees and payment options.
- Check credentials – Be sure any lawyer you consider has experience defending courts martial and is licensed in Pennsylvania.
- Trust your gut – Go with the lawyer you feel most comfortable with and confident in.
Types of Military Trials
There are three types of military trial courts that defendants can face:
- Summary Court-Martial – For minor misconduct. Can impose 30 days confinement.
- Special Court-Martial – Intermediate offenses. Can impose 1 year confinement.
- General Court-Martial – Most serious crimes like rape, murder, treason. Can impose life sentences.
Having a military defense lawyer is important regardless of the court level since even summary courts can result in federal convictions affecting future employment and benefits.
Punishments Imposed in Military Courts
Some potential punishments imposed in military trials include:
- Prison time/confinement
- Dishonorable or bad conduct discharge
- Loss of rank and pay
- Extra duties or restriction to base
- Forfeiture of benefits like education and health care
These punishments can negatively impact military defendants for the rest of their lives. Experienced counsel is needed to craft an aggressive defense to avoid convictions when possible and minimize sentences.
First Steps After Charges Are Filed
If you have been read your rights and formally accused of a military crime, you should immediately:
- Decline to answer any questions and ask for a lawyer.
- Do not admit to anything or try to explain your side.
- Politely inform command you will be seeking counsel.
- Contact military defense lawyers for consultations.
- Follow your lawyer’s advice on interacting with investigators and command.
Anything you say can be used against you so it’s vital to have an attorney to protect your rights from the start.
How Civilian Lawyers Can Help
While hiring military defense counsel is ideal, experienced civilian lawyers can also represent defendants in courts martial. Some benefits of hiring civilian counsel include:
- No command influence or conflict of interest concerns
- Often have more trial experience than military counsel
- Not limited by military rank like JAG lawyers
- Can solely focus on defendant’s best interests
Reputable civilian military attorneys have the skills and knowledge to effectively navigate military trials even without military JAG experience.
Considering a Plea Bargain
Many military cases end in plea agreements instead of going to trial. Some things to know when considering a plea deal:
- Make sure you understand exact terms of the plea offer.
- Pleas can still result in serious penalties like discharge or confinement.
- Listen to your lawyer’s advice but final decision is yours.
- Be sure you are pleading guilty because you actually are, not just to avoid trial.
- Pleas can’t be appealed but trials can be if errors occur.
Never accept a plea deal before consulting with a military law attorney to discuss pros, cons, and alternatives.
How Past Service and Records Impact Trial
Your military background can influence the outcome of your case. Things like:
- Awards and commendations
- Number and type of deployments
- Performance reviews and ratings
- Length of service
- Past discipline or lack of issues
Can help show your character and service record in a positive light. Your lawyer can use your background to help fight the charges or mitigate penalties.
Common Defenses in Military Trials
Some defenses military lawyers frequently use include:
- Lack of evidence – Prosecutors have the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Unlawful command influence – When commanders improperly influence proceedings.
- Unlawful searches – Evidence obtained improperly without a warrant can be suppressed.
- Self-defense – Using reasonable force to protect yourself is not a crime.
- Good military character – Presenting service record and character witnesses.
- Extenuating circumstances – Explaining circumstances like combat trauma or duress.
An experienced military lawyer will know how to build the strongest defense to defeat the charges or mitigate punishment.
How Courts Martial Work
Courts martial proceed much like civilian criminal trials with some key differences:
- No jury – Military judge determines verdict and sentence.
- More limited discovery – Less evidence disclosure by prosecutors.
- Different evidence rules – Special rules apply under the Military Rules of Evidence (MRE).
- Command influence concerns – Pressure on judge and prosecutors from commanders.
Understanding these unique aspects is vital for building an effective defense strategy.
The Appeals Process
For courts martial resulting in punitive discharge or confinement over 1 year, appeals can be made to military appellate courts and in some cases to the U.S. Supreme Court. Grounds for appeals include:
- Errors in judicial rulings
- Lack of sufficient evidence for conviction
- Unduly harsh sentence
- Legal errors in proceedings
Military defendants have the right to zealous appellate advocacy to overturn wrongful convictions or reduce unfair sentences.
Seeking Clemency and Parole
After conviction, clemency and parole can be requested to reduce confinement time. Clemency letters detail:
- Background and service record
- Family impact of confinement
- Remorse and rehabilitation
Parole letters argue confinement is no longer necessary and early release will aid re-entry.
Benefits of Hiring a Lawyer Early
Consulting with a military defense lawyer early when facing accusations has many advantages:
- They can intervene with command before charges are filed.
- Can immediately start building a defense strategy.
- Begin working to get statements and evidence thrown out.
- Start investigation and discovery process.
- Avoid mistakes that hurt your case.
The earlier counsel gets involved, the better the outcome may be.
Questions to Ask When Hiring a Military Lawyer
Important questions to ask when interviewing military defense attorneys include:
- How many courts martial have you handled in Pennsylvania?
- What is your understanding of the charges I’m facing?
- What defenses could we assert in my case?
- What are the risks if I go to trial vs take a plea deal?
- What are your retainer fees and billing rates?
- How often will you communicate with me?
- Have you handled cases similar to mine before?
Choose a lawyer who gives you clear, knowledgeable responses to build confidence they can defend you effectively.
Facing military criminal charges in Pennsylvania is scary. The military justice system is unique and the consequences for convictions are severe. Having an experienced military defense lawyer is critical. Use the tips in this article to find the best attorney to aggressively defend your case. With the right lawyer fighting for your rights, you have the best chance at the most favorable outcome, whether that means defeating the charges or minimizing the penalties. Do not leave your military career and future in the hands of just any lawyer – find the right defense attorney to be your zealous advocate through the military justice process.