Should I Hire a Civilian Defense Attorney?
Those who truly believe in the military justice system will tell you it is the most fair system of justice in existence. Unfortunately, not one person I have represented will tell you that the system felt fair from beginning to end. Right now in the military, and in Congress, there is a full blown assault on the constitutional rights of those accused of a crime in the military. If you find yourself accused of a crime in the military, I know you will be asking, “do I need a civilian attorney?”
Everyone in Uniform is Against You
The simple truth is that everyone in uniform is against you. Commanders are losing their jobs daily because they exercised their authority to stand up for a person accused of a crime. In Japan, two commanders have been relieved of their command in the last few weeks. In Congress, the nomination of Lt Gen Susan Helms (USAF) is being held up because she dismissed a case several years ago. Furthermore, Congress is looking to actually fire Lt Gen Craig Franklin (USAF) for his decision to dismiss a case. And if that isn’t enough evidence to prove you don’t have a chance at fairness, a military judge has ruled that President Obama is unlawfully influencing the outcome of sentencing proceedings in sexual assault cases.
With all of this tremendous pressure at the top, how can anyone actually believe their command can act in a manner favorable to an accused without career ending impact. So, if command cannot be trusted to do justice, who can help defend you? Those that tout the military justice system as the ultimate in fairness, will often cite the right to free defense counsel. The problem is these men and women wear the same uniform as the commanders and generals that refuse to acknowledge the possibility of false allegations and mistaken evidence. These defense counsel are generally good people with extremely honest intentions; however, in some branches, they were hand selected for their job by the head prosecutor on base. In other situations, they are straight out of law school, and hands-down the most junior attorney on an installation. In every branch, they were ultimately selected for their job by The Judge Advocate General (a Lt Gen), the same generals that spoke before Congress a few weeks ago to declare they are united in their commitment to appease victim advocate groups.
If that’s not enough, take a look at this Air Force sponsored Facebook page regarding the Special Victims Counsel program. It is so important that real sexual assault victims have resources to assist in the trauma they suffer, but you’re not going to find any pictures currently publicized by the Air Force with The Judge Advocate General proudly standing before the uniformed defense counsel he choose to defend those falsely accused of sexual assault, yet you should believe TJAG selected the best to defend you?
Who Should I Choose to Defend Me?
Many civilian attorneys are immune from the pressures of the chain of command. You want to make sure your civilian defense counsel has the courage to confront unlawful command influence. That means you should make sure the attorney you’re talking to isn’t still a member of the reserves, or a DC insider with more interest in protecting his friends than defending his client. However, you want to make sure your defense attorney knows the ins-and-outs of the system. You should be looking for someone that served as a JAG, with years of experience in the military justice system, that was selected for prestigious positions during their service, and with a wide range of experience with the type of case you have.
Your attorney should also be hungry to defend you, not earn a quick buck! When you’re talking to a civilian defense attorney, ask them for specific examples of motions they have filed to challenge unlawful actions of commanders. Some of the attorneys that advertise on Google and elsewhere have turned their practices into moneymaking-meat-grinders. These attorneys will show up to trial hours, not days, before it begins. They will leave all of the important legal issues to the inexperienced uniformed defense counsel, and they will quit at the sentencing phase of trial. These attorneys are also charging astronomical prices, claiming top dollar gets you a top notch lawyer — but it really just gets you top notch greed. Your attorney should be willing to personally answer emails and phone calls around the clock. They should take the time to listen to your feelings. And, they should be focused enough to remember who you are every time you call.
In March, I filed the first motion against the Air Force for Unlawful Command Influence related to the firestorm of attention surrounding Lt Gen Franklin’s dismissal of a sexual assault case. My motions lasted several days, and ultimately led to Lt Gen Franklin testifying on his decision. I was the force that compelled the first actual public remarks by Lt Gen Franklin on the issue.
What if My Case is Small?
With all of the attention on sexual assault cases, others facing different charges will feel lost. Command is just as likely to derail the career of a soldier wrongfully accused of drug use as much more serious offenses. In fact, I often see backroom antics between command, Legal, and the military defense attorneys to quickly and quietly end the careers of those facing minor crimes. When you’re not getting the time of day with your uniformed counsel, or they are begging you to take a deal, that’s when you need a free consult. In some cases a deal is absolutely warranted, but let’s make sure the deal is the best you can get, and the efforts of your counsel continue until your case is fully concluded.