As an active duty service member, you must follow the provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Whether you’re off-base, on active duty, or on base, you must adhere to all required rules of conduct as required by the military. You also have to follow these rules even if the military sends you on furlough.
Civil law enforcement officers do not enforce the UCMJ rules since they are federal laws. Federal officers and the military court are responsible for enforcing the rules included in the code.
Many members of local law enforcement agencies don’t know federal military laws and how to enforce them. They are not legally authorized to arrest or charge a military member for violating any UCMJ provision.
The UCMJ includes a range of crimes that can overlap with civilian law, such as:
- Additional offenses equally punishable by civilian and military law
Even if a local police officer arrests you for a crime you commit off-base, you would have to face the federal military court instead of a civilian court.
What If I’m Arrested Off Base for a Crime?
The military expects off-duty soldiers to follow state laws and adhere to all codes under the UCMJ. If you commit a crime, you could face harsh penalties. Although local law enforcement can’t charge you for the offense, they could inform the military of what happened. Additionally, civilian agencies have jurisdiction over specific conduct committed off-base, such as domestic violence, and don’t have to notify the military of the arrest, detainment, or charge.
If you were arrested for a criminal offense away from the military base, you should immediately hire a criminal defense lawyer. They can advise you of your rights and what to expect during the legal process. Depending on the type of crime you allegedly committed, you could face a civil court case or federal military court proceedings.
Penalties for a Conviction
Sentencing varies based on the type of crime and whether your case goes through civilian or federal military court.
The UCMJ authorizes nine types of penalties depending on the offense:
- Reduction in grade
- Punitive discharge
- Hard labor without confinement
Virginia law provides sentencing guidelines a judge can use to determine the punishment for felony and misdemeanor crimes. Since the state can pursue a case against a military member for murder, DUI, domestic violence, and other eligible offenses, you could face imprisonment and fines.
First-degree murder is a Class 2 felony. Sentencing can include:
- Up to a $100,000 fine
- 20 years to life in prison
Second-degree murder is punishable by:
- A maximum of a $100,000 fine
- Between five and 40 years in a state correctional facility
A domestic violence conviction can lead to sentencing as a Class 1 misdemeanor, such as:
- Up to one year in jail
- No more than a $2,500 fine
However, the Class 1 misdemeanor becomes a Class 6 felony if criminal records show two or more previous domestic violence convictions. Sentencing could include:
- Between one and five years in prison
- A maximum of a $2,500 fine
Driving under the influence is a severe crime in Virginia. Upon conviction, you could lose your license and face fines and a prison term.
Sentencing depends on whether it’s the first offense or an additional offense. For example, a first-time DUI conviction can result in up to twelve months in jail. However, the sentencing guideline for a third offense is 90 days to five years imprisonment.
Whether the federal military court or civilian court imposes your sentence, you could be subject to additional penalties by the military:
- Barred from reenlistment
- Ineligible for a promotion or leadership position
- Non-deployable for missions
- Discharge from the military
- Ineligible for an overseas assignment and contract
How a Lawyer Could Help
At Invictus Law, our Virginia Beach defense attorneys have more than 25 years of combined legal experience. As former Army and Marine Corps JAGs, our legal team has the knowledge and skills necessary to handle your military criminal case successfully.
If you’re a military member facing charges for an off-base criminal offense, do not hesitate to call Invictus Law at (757) 317-5125 for a consultation and learn more about your legal rights and options.