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Facing charges for the same crime in civilian and military court

Most people are familiar with the legal concept of "double jeopardy." Protections against it are rooted in the Fifth Amendment, which says in part, "No person shall ... be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb."

The Uniform Code of Military Justice has a similar provision in Article 44. It says that service members can't be "tried a second time for the same offense."

However, can civilian authorities charge and try a person for the same crime for which they're charged under the UCMJ? What if the military wants to charge a service member whom a civilian court has acquitted?

Because civilian and military courts are considered separate sovereigns, a service member can be tried in both a civilian court (either in the U.S. or abroad) as well as in a military court. This is true even if they are acquitted in civilian court. That's because they are alleged to have committed two separate offenses.

This can happen, for example, when a service member is charged with a DUI while off-base. In these cases, service members most likely will only face criminal charges in a Kentucky or Tennessee civilian court, with some type of administrative action by his or her commanding officer. However, the UCMJ doesn't prevent the military from trying the person in military court for the DUI and/or other military crimes associated with it, such as disorderly conduct.

It's essential for military personnel to remember that they're subject to the laws of the state as well as to military law. Those who are charged with a crime that straddles both sovereigns should seek the advice of an attorney who is experienced in both.

Source: FindLaw, "Double Jeopardy and the Military: What You Need to Know," accessed Feb. 10, 2016

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Michael J. Thompson, Attorney at Law

16360 Fort Campbell Blvd.
Oak Grove, KY 42262
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