A DUI charge is a severe offense in California for civilians. The consequences of the violation are more critical for service members with the impact affecting both civilian and military worlds. This means when a service member is charged with a DUI in a regular court, it will have an impact on their record when on base. Even as a service member, DUI charges result in prosecution in the ordinary courts. Getting a DUI attorney to represent you gives you a fighting chance against the allegations. At Leah Legal in Van Nuys, we are experienced and dedicated to providing you a defense that is favorable for the charges you are facing.
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Military DUI Overview and Jurisdiction
As earlier indicated, military personnel arrested for a DUI can be charged with the offense in the regular courts as well as face disciplinary action from the military court. When a member of the military faces DUI charges while on a military installation, he or she is subjected to court-martial proceedings or Article 15. A DUI charge off the base would have severe repercussions on the base for the service member, as well.
When the local law enforcement officers charge you with intoxicated driving, your base commanding officer can also penalize you for misbehaving. In such cases, you may be given extra duties or asked to attend an alcohol program for abuse treatment.
When it comes to DUI offenses, the military courts don’t have sole jurisdiction. This is because, based on where the offense happened, civilian courts equally have jurisdiction. In some cases, both the civilian and military authorities can file DUI charges against an individual. When this happens, both entities work together and decide on how the prosecution of the service member will be carried out.
It is important to note that a DUI offense can lead to both civilian and military charges. However, if the charges against you in the civil courts are dropped or you are acquitted of them, it doesn’t affect the military court decision. The military court, if they see fit, can still penalize the defendant on the same offense, and sometimes the punishment may include a court-martial.
Generally, the military has jurisdiction over its service members that are on active duty and the crimes they may commit regardless of their location. On the other hand, civilian court jurisdiction is determined by where the incident happened and the circumstances of the offense. If the violation occurred at a military base or a federal military installation, the civil court has no jurisdiction.
A DUI Arrest on Base
If you are arrested on a DUI offense while on a military base, your charges will be brought in the military court. The penalties for this offense are found under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) Sec 911 - Art 111. In addition, the defendant will also be subjected to adverse administrative action as well as a court-martial.
The statute prohibits the reckless operation of an aircraft, vehicle, or vessel when drunk. The law indicates as follows:
- An individual that controls or operates an aircraft, vessel or vehicle recklessly or in a manner described as wanton while intoxicated or
- Physically controls or operates a vessel, car, or plane when drunk or with a blood alcohol concentration that is beyond the legal limit will face penalties as directed by the court-martial
This means the person will not face DUI charges as a civilian. However, the defendant can still get their driver’s license suspended by the state, be ordered to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle, as well as other penalties that will affect your privileges for driving.
A DUI Arrest Off Base
If you are arrested for drunk driving off base even when a member of the service, the law enforcement agencies, as well as the state, will prosecute you in a civilian court. Despite the criminal charges you will face, and the penalties that result, your commanding officer at his/her discretion can take administrative action against you. He/she may order you to seek treatment for substance abuse, revoke your pass privileges, as well as corrective training.
Additionally, the military may bring other charges against you following the incident, such as charging you with disorderly conduct. They can also institute further DUI charges against you after your civil trial comes to an end.
What Happens to a Civilian Arrested of a DUI offense on Base?
When you are arrested for drunk driving while at a military base as a civilian, you will not be charged in a civilian court, but in a federal court. However, the federal court, in most cases, uses the DUI laws of the state of California to punish you. The civilians that find themselves in such circumstances are friends or family members to service personnel or civilian employees with access to a military installation.
Consequences of a Military DUI Conviction
A conviction for a DUI offense in California results in severe penalties. The penalties are even steeper for military personnel charged with the same crime. There is a likelihood that the career of the service member may come to an end or face a severe impact. When military personnel is convicted of the offense, they are likely to face some of the following consequences. This is despite the penalties imposed on them by the court. These are:
- A probability of getting a dishonorable military discharge
- Getting your rank reduced
- Facing a pay cut
- Being charged with cash fines
- Losing security clearance privileges
- Facing imprisonment
For a member of the military, a standard DUI conviction can destroy all the work they have put into advancing their career, and sometimes can end it altogether. A dishonorable discharge is not taken lightly either, and many members are careful not to get discharged. This situation makes it critical for a service member charged with a DUI offense to hire an experienced DUI attorney to not only fight the allegations but to protect their career and reputation.
A military member guilty of a DUI while on the base will get punished by their commanding officer. The commanding officer has the mandate to decide how the case will proceed. The defendant may be subjected to non-judicial penalties as found under Article 15 or to a court-martial. The commanding officer may also decide to punish the defendant by imposing administrative penalties against them.
The administrative penalties are categorized in punitive and administrative action.
Some of the penalties under punitive action may include:
- A member facing court-martial that may sentence the offender to a reduction of their grade, forfeiture of their pay, imprisonment, or dismissal from service
- A non-judicial penalty, as found under UCMJ Article 15, commonly known as Office hours or Captain’s Mast
Court-martial is what is known as a military court. It carries out trials for military personnel, just like the civil courts do for civilians. The court is constituted to determine what happens to military members that commit crimes or disobey the martial law. When a member is convicted of an offense martial court, it decides on the best punishment against the offender based on the offense.
A DUI offense is a serious crime when you are a member of the military, and the martial court is believed to issue steeper penalties for members found guilty of the offense. The law, according to article 111, clearly states that military personnel found operating vehicles recklessly due to drunkenness will be severely punished according to the directive of the martial court.
Three main kinds of court-martials can be used in a DUI case. These are:
- Summary Court-Martial – These are used to try members who have committed minor crimes. In this court, there are no lawyers or a magistrate, but the proceedings are presided over by a commissioned officer. When a member is convicted of a DUI offense in this court, their penalty may include being placed in confinement for thirty days. Additionally, they may receive a reduction in your pay or a reduction in your rank. A member can also be sentenced to forty days of hard labor.
- Special Courts-Martial – This court deals with more severe crimes and runs just like a regular criminal court. In this court, a defendant is allowed to have a defense attorney to defend them. If you are found guilty of a DUI offense in this court, the penalties are more severe. The sentence may include up to a year of confinement, withholding your salary for six months, possible dismissal from the service, or three months of hard labor.
- General Court Martial – This is the court that handles the most severe cases in the military. A DUI conviction under this court means, you are likely to face the maximum penalty as stipulated by the UCMJ. One of the most severe penalties may be being dishonorably discharged from the military.
Non-Judicial Penalty Under Article 15
The military has specific laws that govern and guide its operations and are found under the Uniform Code of Military Justice – UCMJ. If a service member violates any military rules, and the offense is deemed severe, he or she may require to have legal proceedings. This may lead to the member asking for a court-martial. The jury, in this case, is comprised of military and warrant officers. Based on the rank of the member on trial, other enlisted members may also be included in the jury.
If a member is charged with a minor DUI offense, he/she may not require to go through a judicial hearing. In such a case, Article 15 of the UCMJ allows the commanding officer for the defendant to decide on the member’s verdict. The commanding officer is also mandated with issuing penalties to the member based on the magnitude of their offense.
Military Administrative Action
Administrative action against a military officer found guilty of a DUI offense is very severe. Some of the penalties a member may face include having their pass revoked, being reprimanded, having their driving privileges revoked, corrective training, and a possible reduction of their grade based on their rank.
In some cases, the member’s commanding officer may order the offender to treatment for alcohol abuse. If a member has prior DUI related offenses, the penalties are steeper and different from a first time offender.
The penalties for drunk driving on a military officer are dependent on the circumstances of the offense. If a military offender is accused of reckless driving that does not result in severe consequences, the penalties may not be critical. However, if one is charged with a DUI that resulted in significant injuries or death, the penalties are more severe.
To determine the severity of the offense, the circumstances under which the incident occurred are taken into consideration. This is important in deciding what martial court will try the offender and punish them.
It is also important to note that a military offender is permitted to demand a court-martial trial as opposed to being subjected to non-judicial punishment. However, before issuing non-judicial sentencing, the investigation outcome must be analyzed to establish the fairness of the penalty the accused face.
Possible Legal Defenses for Military DUI
A military member, as earlier discussed, can find themselves being tried for a DUI offense in a civil court or a court-martial. Regardless of where one is facing the charges from, having an experienced DUI lawyer is essential to get appropriate defense. Your lawyer, in this case, can use various strategies in your defense. Some of these strategies may include:
Wrong Sobriety Test Results
Saying that the defendant was driving a vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol is not enough to get a conviction. Various tests must be carried out on the defendant and their results presented to the court as proof of their drunk driving. Your lawyer can challenge the accuracy of the results based on various issues.
The validity of the test results can be challenged based on the reliability of the gadgets used to administer the sobriety tests. Sometimes, the devices can be faulty and give unsatisfactory results. Other times, the procedure used to do the blood chemical tests may not have been followed correctly. If your lawyer can establish this, the test results may be inadmissible in court. Blood alcohol concentration results are significant in a DUI charge for the prosecution to get a conviction. If the court rules against the use of the results as evidence, the prosecution may find it challenging to get a conviction on a DUI offense.
There was No Probable Reason for the Arrest
Before a person is arrested for a DUI, there must be probable cause that caused the officer to stop you. If the officer had no reason to arrest you, but he or she did and carried out a chemical test on you, the results from the sobriety tests are not acceptable as evidence against you. When a defendant does not behave in a way to indicate to drunk driving, the police violated his or her rights in arresting them.
Even in a court-martial, the rights of a defendant are just as vital as the case is. If the rights of the defendant are violated during the proceedings, your DUI lawyer can challenge this and try to get the case dismissed.
Bad Driving is not the same as a DUI
A California DUI lawyer can argue that the defendant was driving poorly or erratically, but they were not intoxicated. Most prosecutors begin by focusing on the pattern of driving by the defendant. The arresting officer, when testifying, often will say the defendant was driving in a particular manner that suggested they were drunk. The officer may indicate that the defendant was driving at high speed or moving in and out of lanes.
Your lawyer will argue that sober drivers cause most accidents and that a driving pattern is not an indicator of drugged or drunk driving.
Physical Symptoms are not an Indicator of DUI
A lot of times, prosecutors use the physical signs of intoxication as an indicator that a defendant was driving under the influence. The physical appearance of a defendant is crucial in carrying out DUI investigations. The arresting officer can testify that the defendant:
- Spoke in a slurred manner
- Had watery red eyes
- The defendant’s face was flushed
- The smell of alcohol in the defendant’s mouth was strong
- The defendant walked in an unsteady gait
However, your skilled attorney can argue against these and indicate that some of these signs were because of the defendant:
- Has allergic reactions
- Was suffering from a cold
- The defendant was fatigued
- The defendant’s eyes were irritated.
All of the above are causes for having red and watery eyes and are not sufficient to indicate the defendant was drunk.
Field Sobriety Tests are not Accurate in Measuring Impairment
When arrested for a DUI, the arresting officer may ask you to submit to various sobriety tests. The prosecution may then use these findings as evidence against you. However, your lawyer can easily challenge the results presented by the arresting officer. Both the prosecutors and the arresting officers will insist that the defendant’s performance on the tests was poor.
However, balance can be affected by various things making it unreliable in indicating alcohol impairment in a person. Your lawyer can argue that:
- You naturally have challenges in physical coordination
- The defendant was nervous facing the officer
- The defendant was exhausted
- The defendant’s clothing made it difficult for them to maintain balance
- The defendant has natural flat feet that make it hard to stay balanced
Your lawyer can also argue that the administering officer was not well trained and did not communicate clearly to the defendant. The area where the test was being carried out was boisterous, making it difficult for the defendant to understand the instructions given by the officer. The ground where the test was being carried out must be conducive for the test. If the ground was not even, the defendant could not balance.
Mouth Alcohol Often Leads to Wrong BAC Results
Many times breath BAC results are false. This defense has been used often in DUI cases with great success. Before administering a breath test in California, the officer is expected to observe the suspect for about fifteen minutes continuously. This is necessary to avoid the defendant from putting things with any amount of alcohol in their mouths.
Some things that people use mindlessly include mouthwashes or sprays, medication, or other drinks. The observation is also necessary to ensure the defendant does not regurgitate or burp or belch. Any of these, when done, will transfer alcohol from your stomach to your mouth. This is known as residual mouth alcohol.
A breath test involves the defendant breathing deeply into the gadget. If your mouth already has residual alcohol, the results can show very high levels of alcohol. This is not an accurate indication of the amount of alcohol in your system, yet charges can be brought against you on these results.
Inflated BAC due to Medical Conditions or Diet
Certain medical conditions can cause the BAC to be inflated. A defendant who has diabetes or on a high protein diet can exhibit false BAC results. Some people go on a prolonged fast or are on a high protein diet. As the body is burning down fat, the liver produces ketones. These are substances similar to alcohol and are released through breath.
Unfortunately, the gadgets for testing alcohol in the breath can be tricked by ketones. Due to this, a defendant in this situation can test for high levels of alcohol when, indeed, they are not intoxicated.
Additionally, a person whose body is in ketosis will tend to have similar symptoms as those of a person high on alcohol. Such signs include:
- The person may act confused
- The person may lack coordination
- The person’s breath may smell like alcohol
If you have diabetes or are on a high protein diet, this can be an excellent defense in your case. This can result in the charges against you being dropped.
Finding a Los Angeles DUI Attorney Near Me
Typically, California has very severe penalties for drunk driving. The sentences are even steeper for individuals serving in the military. A career can be ended because of drunk driving allegations if not defended as well as they should be. If you are in the military and facing DUI charges in Van Nuys, you need to fight against the severe penalties as well as your reputation. Getting a skilled DUI attorney is a smart way to ensure a fair trial. At Leah Legal, we can defend you and ensure you are not penalized unfairly. Call us at 818-484-1100, and let us fight on your behalf.