Effects of a Court-Martial ConvictionSeptember 30, 2019
This article discusses some of the lesser known/ancillary effects of a Court-Martial conviction; it does not cover the direct consequences (i.e. jail time, punitive discharges, forfeiture of pay, reduction in rank). For a discussion of those more direct consequences of a Court-Martial read Attorney Barry’s overview of the different types of Courts-Martial.
Effects of a Court-Martial Conviction: Federal Conviction
If a Servicemember is convicted at a Court-Martial they will have a federal conviction on their “record” that will follow them into civilian life. Any conviction at a Special or General Court-Martial counts even if it is for a military specific offense (i.e. adultery, failure to report, AWOL). The point is that a conviction at a Court-Martial is viewed as a federal conviction in the civilian world. This is a massive consequence for a Servicemember that can affect employability and life after military service. I have found that panel members (jurors in the military system) often don’t know this. Explaining this to them during the sentencing phase of a trial has resulted in less punishment for my former clients (i.e. less jail time).
Effects of a Court-Martial Conviction: Sex Offender Registration
A conviction at a Court-Martial CAN result in the requirement to register both in the military and outside of the military as a sex offender. While this list is not exhaustive, the following offenses under the UCMJ require registration with the military if convicted: sexual assault, rape, abusive sexual contact, and any offense involving child pornography. Furthermore, if a Servicemember is convicted of any sexual offense they will have to analyze the state law of the state they live in to see if that state requires registration. For the offenses listed above it is likely that all states will require registration as a sex offender.
Amazingly, panel members don’t seem to know this. I say this because of the number of times I have heard them ask (in open court) if a conviction for one of the above listed offenses requires sex offender registration. Unfortunately, Servicemembers and their lawyers are not allowed to answer their question. The UCMJ and its interpretations prohibit “collateral consequences” of a Court-Martial being introduced to the panel during any phase of the trial.
Wise defense attorneys will preserve their client’s legal rights and file a motion that allows such consequences to be discussed. Even though the motion will be denied by the trial judge, this specific legal issue is ripe to be overturned by a higher court. It has always baffled me that some collateral consequences (such as mentioning the effect of a punitive discharge on a Soldier’s life) can be discussed, but not others. Sex offender registration is a lifetime punishment that cripples hope of a normal life. If panels were to know this prior to handing out other punishment (i.e. jail time), they would likely be much more lenient.
Effects of a Court-Martial Conviction: Lautenberg Amendment
The Lautenberg Amendment refers to a federal law that can result in a Servicemember being prohibited from possessing a firearm. The law makes Servicemembers unable to possess firearms, including their service issued weapon, if they are convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. A qualifying offense is any offense that:
"has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim."
A Servicemember that cannot be assigned an individual weapon is not viewed very positively by the Command. Furthermore, such a Servicemember is not able to be assigned in certain locations around the world. What this means, generally, is that if a Servicemember is convicted of domestic violence at a Special or General Court-Martial, they will likely be separated from the Service even if they aren’t adjudged a punitive discharge. This can easily be accomplished by the Command using administrative separation procedures after trial.
Often a Servicemember will be accused of a very minor assault and battery that does not result in jail time or a punitive discharge; however, because it qualifies as domestic violence under the Lautenberg Amendment, they end up losing their career. Servicemembers in this situation need to be aware of the possible consequences and be represented by a lawyer who can effectively advocate to save their careers.
This article was written by Attorney Matthew Barry