Like every other branch of the military, the United States Coast Guard is governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Under the UCMJ, a Coast Guard member or officer accused of misconduct will have those allegations investigated by the commanding officer or by the Coast Guard Investigative Service, the federal law enforcement agency empowered to investigate wrongdoing in the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard is significantly smaller than the other branches of the military, with less than half the number of active duty members compared to the Navy or Air Force Reserve. But despite the small size, every month hundreds of Coast Guard members and officers face some form of military justice. In the second quarter of 2018 alone, non-judicial punishment was imposed 142 times. Combined, members were sentenced to more than $16,000 in pay forfeiture, over 2,700 days of restriction, and more than 2,100 days of extra duty. These penalties are only a fraction of what members convicted at trial by court-martial received.
A conviction at trial by court-martial can cost you everything: your career, your freedom, and in the most serious cases your life. But if you fight back, you may be able to avoid a conviction altogether.
The first step towards winning your trial by court-martial is obtaining tough, experienced defense counsel that will never be intimidated. Attorney Patrick J. McLain is a retired Marine Corps military judge who has the experience to take on any type of case the U.S. Coast Guard may bring. To learn more, contact Attorney Patrick J. McLain today.
Military Justice in the Coast Guard
In the Coast Guard, criminal prosecutors in the military justice system are known as trial counsel. When a case is referred to trial counsel by command, he or she will review the evidence collected by CGIS or from other agencies before determining if charges are warranted.
If the trial counsel determines charges are necessary, the member will receive notification of the pending court-martial. Coast Guard members have the right to counsel, and the Coast Guard Defense Services Division exists to coordinate legal counsel for members who need it.
Thanks to Memorandum of Understanding between the Navy and the Coast Guard, the Navy provides Coast Guard members with legal counsel during courts-martial cases, boards of inquiry, and administrative discharge boards. These defense attorneys are known as DSOs.
Your Rights as a Coast Guard Court-Martial
During a Coast Guard court-martial, you have rights provided by both the UCMJ as well as the Constitution of the United States. It is important to note that you have protections above and beyond those granted to defendants in civilian courts. The Constitutional rights that protect you include:
- The right to avoid self-incrimination;
- The right to face your accuser;
- The right to call witnesses;
- Presumption of your innocence;
- Protection against unlawful search and seizure;
- The right to a fair and speedy trial; and
- Protection against double jeopardy.
The rights guaranteed by the UCMJ expand well beyond the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. For starters, protections against self-incrimination are far more robust under the UCMJ than under the Miranda warning required in civilian cases. In civilian cases, law enforcement is only required to inform a defendant of their rights when they are in custody, and there is no requirement that they inform the defendant of the charge currently under investigation. According to Article 31(b) of the UCMJ, a Coast Guard member must have his or her rights read whenever questioned, and law enforcement must inform the Coast Guard member of the specific charges.
Another difference between the protections in civilian court and under the UCMJ involves the right to an attorney at government expense. While all defendants are entitled to legal counsel in the civilian system, the government only picks up the tab when the defendant can show he or she cannot afford an attorney. Under the UCMJ, all Coast Guard members are entitled to defense counsel at no cost.
Despite having the right to a DSO at no cost, hiring civilian defense counsel may give you the best chance of prevailing at trial. While DSOs are capable attorneys, only experienced civilian defense counsel can provide the resources and experience you need to have the best chance at avoiding a conviction.
Direct Consequences of a Conviction
If you are convicted at trial by court-martial, there are nine forms of potential punishment you may face. The sentence you face will depend in large part by (1) the evidence against you brought by trial counsel; and (2) the case your defense counsel is able to present.
Potential penalties for a court-martial conviction include:
- Hard labor without confinement
- Reduction in Grade
- Punitive Discharge, or
A conviction isn't necessarily the end of your case: you have the right to an appeal. In fact, in certain cases, a conviction will automatically be taken under appellate review. Those cases include:
- Dishonorable discharge
- Bad conduct discharge
- Dismissal (Officers)
- Confinement for over one year, or
Just like at trial, you are entitled to an attorney during the appeals process as well. To discuss your appellate options with an attorney who knows how to win on appeal, contact Patrick J. McLain.
Collateral Consequences of a Court-Martial
In addition to the penalties formalized in the UCMJ, there are other collateral consequences that come with a conviction at trial by court-martial. In some cases, these consequences can haunt you long after your military career is over. This is due in part to the fact that some court-martial convictions are treated as felonies under the laws of certain states. As a convicted felon, you could face any of the following in civilian life:
- Difficulty obtaining housing
- Difficulty maintaining employment
- Losing the right to vote or own firearms
- Repayment of enlistment bonuses, and/or
- Repayment of educational benefits.
Where We Work
- USCG Base Kodiak
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- Coast Guard Academy
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- Training Center Cape May
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- USCG Sector Houston-Galveston
- USCG Sector Hampton Roads
- USCG Training Center Yorktown
- USCG Station Burlington
- USCG Sector Lake Michigan
Discuss Your Case with Experienced Civilian Defense Counsel
Remember, if you win at trial, the above-mentioned consequences never become a reality. To get started with fighting back against the charges you are facing, contact military defense lawyer Patrick J. McLain today for a free phone consultation.