Coast Guard Discharge for the Good of the ServiceMarch 16, 2020
Coastguardsmen who are undergoing a Court-Martial may hear about something called a discharge for the good of the Service. This is a request from a Coastguardsman to be administratively discharged instead of having to face a Court-Martial. If the request is approved, all charges are dismissed and the Coastguardsman is discharged administratively.
A Coastguardsman is eligible to submit a request if charges have been preferred against him/her and at least one of the charges authorizes a punitive discharge under the UCMJ. Such a request is nothing more than a memorandum, usually prepared by a military attorney, that requests a discharge in lieu of trial by Court-Martial. The request includes a very vague and general acknowledgment of guilt. This acknowledgement of guilt cannot be used against a Coastguardsman later at the Court-Martial if the request is denied.
The Commander, PSC-EPM-1, is the approval authority. If the request is approved, the charges against the Coastguardsman are dropped and he/she is discharged, usually within 10 days. Coastguardsmen can only receive an Other than Honorable Discharge (unlike all other Services).
It is important to note that once a request is submitted, it can only be withdrawn with the consent of a Commander. This is one of the many reasons Coastguardsman should consult with an experienced military attorney before submitting one.
This type of request can be beneficial for Coastguardsman in many situations; however, it is a gamble. Coastguardsmen should consider requesting discharge in lieu of trial by Court-Martial when they are guilty of some of the more minor offenses charged, but not the more serious ones. For example, a Coastguardsman charged with AWOL for 6 months and sexual assault may admit that they were AWOL (which is generally easy for the Government to prove) but vehemently deny that they are guilty of sexual assault. In this situation, the Coastguardsman would likely receive a punitive discharge at trial anyway (for the AWOL conviction), and also be facing jail time and possible sex offender registration (if convicted of the sexual assault charges). Instead of taking these risks, a Coastguardsman may decide to request a discharge in lieu of trial by Court-Martial in hopes of avoiding a federal conviction, punitive discharge, jail time, and possible sex offender registration. Of course, it is a gamble, because a Coastguardsman in this situation may also go to trial and be completely acquitted.
You may be wondering why the Government would ever accept such a request. Primarily, it is when the Government is worried that they may not achieve a conviction at trial and want the Coastguardsman out of the military. For example, often times a complaining witness accusing a Coastguardsman of sexual assault will decide they don’t want to testify. Without his/her testimony, the Government may be worried that they can’t prove their case. Therefore, in this situation, both the Coastguardsman and the Government may not want to gamble with a jury, and a discharge in lieu of trial by Court-Martial works for both parties. Another reason the Government may approve a request is when they are simply overworked. A case may require a lot of work for them to achieve a conviction. The JAGs may not want to do this work and therefore might be more likely recommend approval.
Before submitting a separation in lieu of trial by Court-Martial request, a Coastguardsman has a lot to consider. It is a complicated process and the assistance of a military attorney who understands it is recommended.
This article was written by Attorney Matthew Barry