Constitutional Rights vs Military Rights – Military Law Lawyers Explain

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As citizens of the United States, we hold certain rights. The right to lawful search and seizure, the right to freedom of speech, and the right to bear arms are just a few examples of the many freedoms the United States Constitution outlines. When a U.S. citizen chooses to join the military, however, the federal government is given the right to place restrictions on conduct that would not necessarily be applied to civilians. Does that mean that people lose their rights when the enter the military? Not technically. Because this is a question the team at Military Trial Defenders constantly receive, we will walk through the answer below. 

Parker v. Levy

Parker v. Levy is an infamous case that military law lawyers constantly refer back to. In 1974, Levy (the Respondent) was court-martialed for making several negative statements about the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. He encouraged his fellow soldiers to protest alongside him by refusing to go to Vietnam. He topped off his criticisms by calling Special Forces soldiers “liars and thieves” and “murderers of women and children.”

After being sentenced to three years in military prison, Levy appealed on the grounds that he had a constitutional right to free speech under the 1st amendment. His appeal made articles 90, 133, and 134 of the UCMJ invalid and unconstitutional. After the conviction was upheld, Levy appealed again – this time to the Supreme Court.

Finally, the Court held that the military regulation of speech is constitutionally valid given it’s role as a “specialized society from civilian society.” Such a society requires greater restrictions, and the Court believed that Levy’s speech could have negatively affected military efforts.

Examples of Constitutional Restrictions

1.  Lawful Search and Seizure: Though civilians are protected from searches without warrants, military members who live on post may face health and welfare inspections at any time. This is a safety measure that the military feels is necessary to ensure a secure environment.
2.  Freedom of Speech: As demonstrated in Parker v. Levy, military members have restrictions on their right to voice opinion. They are not allowed to support or oppose any political party or engage in political gatherings while wearing their uniforms. Such actions could give the impression that the military was endorsing certain candidate or activities.
3.  The Right to Bear Arms: Private firearms are not allowed on bases or posts unless they are authorized. Some military policies that deny private weapons whatsoever.

The Right to Work with Military Law Lawyers

Members of the military who have accusations of an infraction have the legal right to counsel. So, by consulting with military law lawyers, members service members ensure that they are receiving the best possible legal advice for their current circumstances. The attorneys at Military Trial Defenders understand the rights and restrictions within the UCMJ. In sum, their knowledge and expertise will positively impact a military case.

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