How Does the Military Find Out About DUI Charges and What Consequences Do They Have?
A DUI arrest, charge, or conviction can impact a person's life permanently. The same applies to military service members- with possible additional consequences. Driving under the influence is a serious offense for anyone and is penalized harshly across the United States, and the Military Justice System treats it with the same significance.
If a person has been convicted of driving under the influence, the military will find out about it. There are many ways they can do so, whether or not the person committing the crime is in the military at the time of the incident.
DUI Convictions and the Military
In short, a DUI charge applies to any person operating a motorized vehicle while over the legal blood alcohol level. It can also apply to a person intoxicated due to drug use. There are severe consequences for anyone found guilty- especially in Texas, one of the toughest states on DUI cases.
The military courts can get involved in the conviction of a service member and can access records of anyone attempting to join. Even minor offenses can be found, so it is inadvisable to attempt to hide a DUI charge.
All US Military branches have a zero-tolerance policy for DUIs, and there are always consequences for any person in the military service. It can significantly impact a person's career and is likely to disqualify a person from being able to join the services.
How Does the Military Find Out about a DUI Conviction?
There are many ways the military can find out about DUI convictions. If active service members get a DUI arrest, it is usually reported directly to their commanding officer- as are most offenses.
Background Checks and Record Checks
Before anyone joins the military, an extensive background check is generally carried out. Remember, with modern internet access and freedom of information, it is easy to find out a lot about a person- and the military's resources go far beyond those of an average civilian.
Active service members are also subjected to regular background checks. Any enlisted person can be investigated by their superiors with a quick search of their social security number. It runs through several national databases- many of which automatically highlights new charges- including a DUI.
Here are some places the military can learn of a DUI conviction for service members or new applicants.
National Drivers Register
The National Drivers Register list every person in the country who has been charged with a DUI. It is a database that stores information about anyone who has had their driver's license revoked or suspended- or has committed any other traffic violation.
Once a name is added to the NDR for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it stays there permanently. The military has access to this register and can search for any specific name they wish to investigate.
DMV records for convicted drunk drivers are generally publicly available, so almost anyone can find out about a DUI this way. Of course, that includes the military.
The Department of Motor Vehicles details anything of note in a person's driving history and stores it in their records. Once a person is officially convicted, the DUI is added to their record- and remains there. A military officer can easily access these records to find out about any driving offense a person has committed.
Police and Court Records
There are records made by civilian courts and law enforcement detailing arrests, charges, and convictions. Often, civilian authorities such as the police force automatically share the information with a person's commanding officer if they know they are military personnel.
If they don't, the chances are that word still gets back, and information will be found in the next background search run on a person. Military jurisdiction provides access to all civilian court records for members.
Can a DUI Conviction Go Unnoticed by the Military?
Over a short period, the military may remain unaware of a DUI charge, but once an official conviction is made, it is almost certain they will find out. There may be extremely rare cases, but it is far from the norm, so the assumption should always be the charge gets discovered.
If a person is arrested for driving under the influence but has not yet been charged, a quality DWI attorney can help defend against the charge and try to have the charges dropped before any conviction. In these cases, an arrest record could be expunged- and may lessen the military impact.
Hiding a DUI Charge from the Military
It is unwise to attempt to hide a DUI conviction from the military. Although someone may succeed in the short term, it is highly likely that the information will come to light- which only makes it worse.
A person applying to join the military is required by law to declare any crimes or charges, and failure to do so could lead to automatic disqualification. Informing the military immediately of a DUI conviction upon application may impact the success, but not informing and getting found out definitely will.
What Are the Penalties for a DUI Conviction?
No matter who you are or where you are, DUI cases usually lead to harsh punishment. Most states look to penalize to the fullest extent of the law wherever possible- Texas included. A military DUI can have additional consequences for a person's career and reputation, but even in civilian courts, a DUI is a serious offense.
The exact penalties depend on several things relating to the nature of the DUI. At best, a person can get off with a misdemeanor- but they could also face significant jail time and fines.
In Texas, a DUI or DWI can be a Class B or Class A misdemeanor, but it can also be considered a felony. Even a first-time offender can face $2000 of fines and jail time of up to 180 days- along with a three-year license suspension and annual costs.
Second offenses double the maximum fines and jail sentence, while third offenses push the limits tenfold- with a maximum of $10,000 and 10 years in jail.
License suspension is all but mandatory, with strict circumstances for getting it back after the agreed period. If somebody is injured or killed in an accident, the driver can also face severe criminal charges and the penalties that come with them.
A DUI stays on a person's record forever.
A Military DUI: DUIs and Military Courts
In the case of existing service members charged with DUIs on base, the military courts may take charge of the conviction. Under the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice), the military court has exclusive jurisdiction over many offenses committed by members while on base, but that is not always the case with DUIs.
Military members facing a DUI charge may come against three levels of the military justice system.
A court-martial is essentially a military trial conducted by commanders against service members accused of violations. There are three possible types of court-martial:
Summary Courts-Martial: Court martial for minor offenses- usually with a single commanding officer presiding.
Special Courts-Martial: The most common court martial- a Special Courts Martial involves a military judge and several armed services members. Penalties can extend to six months of jail time or three months of hard labor.
General Courts Martial: Used in extreme cases where a powerful trial is required. The military judge and at least five armed services members can impose almost any punishment- up to and including the death penalty.
Court of Criminal Appeal
Each of the US military branches has its own court of criminal appeal. The Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps use these courts (usually a panel of three judges) to review any court-martial convictions that lead to severe punishment or penalties.
As part of the military justice system, a CCA panel can edit or dismiss the charges based on reviewed findings of the facts and laws applied in the individual case.
US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
When the military court makes a decision that requires appeal or review, it is handed to the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. It is a high-level civilian court proceeding with three president-appointed civilian judges who have the power to review and overrule decisions made under military jurisdiction.
Service Members Arrested Off-Base by Civilian Police
If service members are arrested for a DUI out with the military base, they are likely to be tried in civilian court and face the same criminal charges anyone else would in the same situation. On top of that, they may also be tried under the military justice system for further punitive action relating to their military careers.
How Can a DUI Conviction Impact a Military Career?
A military DUI carries even more consequences than a civilian DUI because of the additional impact it can have on a person's career. Regardless of rank or time served, anyone with ties to the service can suffer severe punishments detrimental to their futures.
Joining the Military
Somebody with hopes of joining the military could be unable to pursue their goals. In many circumstances, anyone with a DUI conviction is disqualified from joining the military. During background searches- when an application is under consideration- officers are likely to find the charge and dismiss the enrolment.
It is still possible to join certain branches of the army with a previous DUI, but there are strict time regulations, and the circumstances of the incident may come into play. However, the chances of being accepted are significantly reduced.
The Navy, Army, and Marine Corps may accept applicants with a maximum of one DUI on their records, but they must apply for a waiver and declare it in their application. Because the Marine Corps is such a competitive branch, it is unlikely for waiver appeals to be accepted.
Coast Guard applicants must be sober and free of any charges for at least five years to even be considered. The Air Force does not accept applications from anyone with a DUI.
As an Existing Military Member
Being charged with drunk driving as active military personnel is worse than being charged as a civilian, and the career consequences can be significant. Although DUI convictions do not automatically mean getting kicked out of the army, they generally put an end to any possibility of upward movement and long-term success.
Here are some of the possible career consequences for a military DUI convict.
Military courts can decide to reduce a person's pay indefinitely or for a set time following a DUI.
Demotion in Rank
Demotions are common consequences for military DUI offenders. Losing rank is a serious blow to anyone on active duty and jeopardizes their entire military future.
In some cases, a person may retain their rank and pay- but the chances of ever being promoted are all but squandered. The military is very much a promotion-based system- so stagnation can be as bad as a demotion.
Limited Security Clearance
Security clearance plays a significant part in many military roles. If a person gets a military DUI but remains in the services, they could have their's revoked and subsequently tumble in rank.
Dishonorable discharge is something all military members dread. It destroys a person's reputation and future- disqualifying them from any benefits or support they would have received otherwise.
A dishonorable discharge is essentially being kicked out of the military. If a DUI charge leads to criminal conviction and time in jail, this is a near certainty.
Fines and Imprisonment
The same fines and potential jail sentences apply to military members on top of any service-related punishments. Military courts have the power to impose these sentences and usually do so in line with what the civilian courts would do in most states.
How Can a DUI Conviction Impact Life After the Military?
Whether or not a person is discharged from the military following their DUI, their life is likely to be impacted long-term whenever they do leave. Because these charges render a service member largely unpromotable, they become dead weight and could be cut from the military at any time to reduce costs.
After leaving the services, a convicted drunk driver could struggle to find a new livelihood- since many professions do not hire people with this mark on their records. Combined with the potential lack of work experience after serving in the military- it could be extremely difficult to find work. It may also be impossible to start a business due to licensing restrictions.
People's personal lives also tend to struggle. Marriages, family connections, and friendships can be damaged- especially relationships with other military members. In short, DUIs ruin the careers and lives of civilians and military personnel trying to restart life as a civilian and should not be taken lightly.
Defending Against a DUI Military Charge
Because the law is so strict surrounding DUI convictions, the optimal outcome following an arrest is to have the charges dropped. A DUI arrest may not have the same military implications and could go under the radar during background checks if there is cause to have the record expunged.
A DUI attorney can help a defendant avoid a sentence using one of the following defenses:
Inaccurate or invalid sobriety testing: If a fault can be found with the device, technique, or accuracy of the tests carried out at the scene, the case could be thrown out entirely. Without sufficient, reliable proof that a person was, in fact, under the influence, and over the legal limit, they cannot be found guilty.
No probable cause: A person is generally stopped by police if they are exhibiting behavior that causes alarm- a.k.a. dangerous, reckless, or illegal driving. Laws state that drivers cannot be stopped or arrested if they are not displaying these behaviors. Even if they fail the sobriety test, the police officers are not justified- and are, therefore, violating the person's human rights. Evidence gathered after an unlawful stop or arrest cannot be used in court.
Why Contact a Lawyer?
The law is tough on drunk driving- and the military even more so. Once convicted, it is extremely difficult to work around the black mark on a permanent record. Having a good lawyer to defend from the beginning could make a difference. They can help address concerns such as what happens if you get 3 DWI in Texas or what is the statute of limitations on a DUI.
Most importantly, a DUI attorney can work on behalf of the defendant to avoid convictions and have arrest records expunged. Whatever steps can be taken to lessen the impact on a potential future military career and what information can be found should be handled swiftly, so don't delay seeking legal guidance.
Speak With Expert Defense Attorneys at Sparks Law Firm
Contact leading criminal defense attorneys in Texas at Sparks Law Firm. These aggressive and dedicated lawyers have years of DUI attorney experience and can help you understand and navigate a DUI charge.
The best chance to get in front of the life-changing consequences of a DUI is to avoid conviction. Call now for a free consultation and case review, and get your defense off to the best possible start.