Although civilian lawyers are well known, it is less well known that each branch of the United States military—Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force—also has lawyers to complete various tasks required by that branch. These attorneys are called JAG officers and are a part of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, or JAG Corps. JAG officers earn their law degrees from a civilian law college. After graduating, they will transition into their chosen branch of the military.
Attorneys in the military are commissioned officers that are responsible for a variety of areas of legal practice:
- Offer legal advice to senior members of the armed forces.
- Represent clients ranging from a young enlisted service member to a high-ranking commander in UCMJ article violations.
- Participate in court martials as either a representative of the offender or the military branch in which they serve.
- Represent a member of the military in a landlord-tenant dispute (the only civil issue covered by military lawyers).
While performing their duties, they may come into contact with various fields of law. These include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal law
- Administrative law
- Operational law
- Environmental law
- Labor law
- International law
- National security law
Questions to Ask Your Military Attorney
The attorney representing you during a court martial or other major military disciplinary charge must be trustworthy, experienced, and available. If you are assigned a military attorney, you will likely not be given a choice in the attorney who represents you. Although the attorney will be provided free of charge, there are some questions that you should ask them first. This can determine their level of competency and your subsequent level of confidence in their ability to effectively handle your case. These questions include:
- How Much Law Experience Do You Have?It is not an uncommon occurrence for you to be one of your assigned military attorney’s first cases. Military attorneys have a wide range of responsibilities and, as a result, will not specialize in criminal defense work. When your career and freedom are on the line, it is important that an experienced criminal defense attorney is in your corner.The opposing team will typically have years of experience and may take advantage of any inexperience on your side to get you to plead guilty. They may also try to persuade you to take a discharge from the military instead of demanding a trial by court martial.
You will want to inquire about how many trials your attorney has participated in as well as how long they have been involved in military justice. Although civilian and military justice have similarities, there are important differences that must be accounted for while progressing through your case.
- Did You Serve in the Military in Any Other Capacity?Although legal experience is important for a lawyer in the military, it is also important that they have military experience outside of JAG. Your lawyer will need to interact with commanders, either one-on-one or in front of a jury. They will need to have some understanding of how military leaders and commanders think. There is training that can help bridge this gap for lawyers who did not serve, but it will not typically be as effective as living among them on a regular basis.
- How Do I Know You Are Fighting for Me?This question will be partially answered by their demeanor while they speak with you and address your concerns about your case. A military lawyer may not want to damage their relationship with military prosecutors by challenging the evidence presented against you or aggressively defending you from the charges through a trial. It can be daunting for a JAG to face the much more experienced prosecuting team. They may therefore be reluctant to progress your case to trial.
Attorneys assigned to you by the military have their purpose and can help you through your case. However, it is vital to consider whether they can provide you with the level of defense that you will find with a privately hired military defense attorney.
Q: Do JAG Officers Go to Basic Training?
A: Military officers do not attend the same basic training that enlisted service members will complete. Instead, they will attend a course designed for officers that will teach military protocols and other important information for United States military officers. However, a JAG officer with prior enlisted experience will have attended that branch’s basic training course for enlisted service members. This experience is one reason why it helps to have a military attorney with prior experience serving in the armed forces.
Q: What Are the Requirements to Become a JAG Lawyer?
A: Each branch of the United States military has different requirements to become a lawyer in their JAG Corps. The requirements typically include a course that instructs new officers on the customs and traditions of that branch. For example, if you get accepted to the JAG Corps program with the Navy, you will accept the commission and sign an “Oath and Acceptance of Office.” After your commission as a Juris Doctor, you will then complete the five-week Officer Development School.
Q: What Is the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)?
A: The UCMJ is a federal law that was enacted by Congress in 1951. It created a single set of standards for all the branches to follow, instead of each having its own. These laws apply to every active-duty member of the military, as well as the activated Reserve and National Guard members, military academy students, and some civilians that are connected to the military. Each article within the UCMJ outlines who must follow those specific regulations.
Q: Should I Use a JAG Attorney or a Private Military Defense Attorney?
A: This answer depends on your specific case and needs. If you are facing a minor punishment and believe that your military-appointed attorney can see your case through in a positive way, then it may be worth it to stick with the JAG attorney since they are free. If you are facing harsh punishments or you have any doubt that your appointed attorney will be able to successfully handle your case, you will likely get better results with a criminal defense attorney that has experience with your type of case.
Military Defense With Aaron Meyer Law
Depending on the circumstances and level of charges that you are facing, your military branch may provide a JAG lawyer for your legal issues. The decision to stay with that representation or hire a civilian attorney with military defense experience is a major one, especially if you are facing severe penalties. Aaron Meyer Law can aggressively fight to create the best defense and find the most positive outcome for your case. To schedule a consultation, contact us today.