What Are A Military Member’s Rights When He Or She Is Accused Of A Crime?

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Interviewer: How about someone’s command? Can they demand to know and speak to the individual? Can a military member say “I can’t speak to you yet, I have to speak to my attorney?” What is the protocol?

Chris Cazares: When somebody is brought in either through NCIS, CID, OSI, or through their command, and they are suspected of a crime, under Uniform Code of Military Justice, each military member has what we call Article 31 rights.

Article 31 Rights

These rights are similar, but with more civil liberty protection, than Miranda rights. It goes even further, not just anybody suspected of a crime, all parties have the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent.

All Parties Are Entitled to Article 31 Rights

If a uniformed member suspects an individual of a crime they have to read Article 31 rights, not after someone is taken into custody but the moment they are under suspicion. You have to give this individual their Article 31 rights.

You must be Read Your Article 31 Rights as Soon as You Are under Suspicion of Committing a Crime

If you’re a military member suspected of a crime and you’re speaking to OSI, CID NCIS, or you chain of command, you will have your Article 31 rights read to you, and if you don’t, that’s a serious offense that could lead to suppression of key evidence.

Interviewer: Initially, you think people won’t be compelled to speak with NCIS, CID, and

OSI because they are read those Article 31 rights?

Chris Cazares: No, I think it’s the opposite. I think the accused ends up encountering individuals who are federally trained, and they might be accorded more respect.

The way it plays out is, especially if you are in the company of NCIS, CID and OSI, they each have a small process they all follow, designed to put everyone at ease. Before they read the Article 31 rights they set the stage and they say “This is why you’re here today”, and they just put that fear inside of someone that their voice will never be heard.

Fear of Not Being Able to Relay Your Side of the Story Can Result in Accused Military Members Communicating Too Freely

What you end up seeing is one military member sitting across from another military member, with what they use as a baseline to understand one another, will result in instilling the fear of if you don’t make a statement you’re not going to get heard. How the military are trained to communicate with one another really comes into play here.

Here, here are your Article 31 rights, you know you don’t have to say anything, but the fear’s already been introduced. Unlike in the civilian world, the military member’s job is at stake. A conviction can result in preventing them from earning their living in the manner they do now.

A Conviction for a Sexual Assault Crime Irreparably Harms a Military Member’s Career

The moment you fall under investigation, your entire life has changed. Often times your security clearance is pulled, your computer access if pulled, you’re no longer allowed to do your job that you were originally doing, and you’re reduced to doing manual labor, perhaps just outside pulling weeds.

In a Military Setting, Just Being Accused of a Crime Will Result in Ramifications

If you’re an airplane mechanic, can you imagine one day going to work on an

F-22, then someone falsely accusing you of some type of criminal behavior, you’re not only stripped of that job you had gotten accustomed to and taken pride in, you’re being treated as if you’re already convicted. That’s the paradigm of the world you have to live in.

When you have to sit across from someone who is staring you down, telling you, you know your whole life is about to change. And that’s the problem, they believe in that moment they can stop it. What ends up happening they make this statement that’s not in their best interest and then an investigation goes on for six months. They didn’t help themselves in the least.

Interviewer: I didn’t realize from the moment you’re accused, your circumstances are affected and a military member can literally be outside pulling weeds.

Chris Cazares: It’s at the commander’s discretion, but by and large that’s what you’re going to see. You become a security risk at that point, “I don’t know this guy and I don’t know what he did”.

It’s unfair, but when you work for a machine such as the government, actions that are taken can hurt because you’re a human being, not a machine. You want to take pride in your work.

You want to believe that your commander, your unit, your fellow sailors, soldiers, marines believe in your honesty and integrity, especially after you’ve demonstrated that often times over the last 10 to 20 years.

One accusation can change your entire life, not just whether or not you go downtown to get your Miranda rights read to you, we’re talking from the moment you wake up until the time you go to sleep, your life is different. You’ll have people who are married who are forced to live in the barracks.

The wife lives on one side of the barracks in their housing, because you’re under investigation you have to live on the other side of the base. The individual who is accused thought that by making a statement they could stop that.

What Happens to the Accuser Who Makes a False Allegation?

Interviewer: Is there any punishment for a victim that recants or the accused is found to be not guilty? Are all of their rights and security clearances restored? What happens?

Chris Cazares: To answer the first question, for individuals who make a seemingly false statement, there has been discipline meted out, but that’s pretty rare. The accuser is rarely the one who feels the sting of the investigation; it’s all on the accused.

A False Allegation Can Still Impact the Military Member Who Was Accused

To answer your second question, whether the individual has their previous life restored to them, often times when you end up making that statement it just gives the investigator more opportunities to track down information that’s just not in that individual’s best interest.

What that ends up doing is people are taken outside of their, they often won’t get promoted, their performance report, their evaluations reflect the investigation, so it’s already started to have an adverse effect on the accused.

You Must Remain Diligent in Defending an Accusation of Sexual Assault

That’s generally why you want to very diligent in defending this, because you know you want to minimize that any other details that could be uncovered. You need to make the right choices in choosing who will work on your defense team.

Your team ends up advising your case, which is what we need to do to protect your career, to protect your liberty, to protect your best interests.

After a Case Is Resolved, the Military Member That was Exonerated May Still Suffer from Stress and Trauma

Interviewer: What do you find happens to people after a case is resolved? Do they tend to stay in the military or leave and just turn into a shell of their former selves?

Chris Cazares: Again, that is really a case by case situation. The psychological harm for any military member who has gone under investigation, the tremendous amount of stress that you’re faced with on a day to day basis is unbelievable.

I think you end up feeling as an attorney that you’re the only one in that fox hole with your client, and you’re the only one who’s really fighting for them, so you develop the same perspective on what you want your outcome to be.

You have a determined outcome, and are obviously very honest with one another. Their whole world is just crashing down on them, and they had nobody to give them advice, nobody to give them sound planning, so they’re frightened.

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