3 reasons to hire an attorney to handle courts-martial appeals

Hiring a lawyer for courts-martial appeals can be beneficial given the high stakes and the potential limitations of assigned representation.

Courts-martial convictions can have far-reaching impacts on a person's career and future. Fortunately, service members have the right to appeal these convictions or the resulting sentencing. Many service members who find themselves in this position in Washington, D.C., might consider handling this process with only the assistance of a government-appointed attorney. However, this can be a risky strategy, as it may cause a person to miss out on the following benefits of hiring a private attorney.

1. A second opinion

All courts-martial proceedings that result in convictions must be reviewed by the convening authority and, in some cases, a higher appeals court. Convictions that result in dismissal of an officer, other-than-honorable discharge, confinement for over one year or the death penalty are automatically subject to review by a higher court. These reviews alone may result in the mitigation of a person's sentence or the overturning of a conviction. However, this is not always the case.

A private attorney can conduct an independent review of a service member's case and the evidence that supported his or her conviction. Then, the attorney can advise the individual of whether there are grounds for challenging the original conviction.

2. Experienced counsel

Hiring an attorney also gives a person an opportunity to select the representative who is most qualified to handle the complex, time-consuming courts-martial appeals process. As the American Bar Association notes, people who face military discharge or criminal prosecution by the military should always consider whether a prospective representative has current, relevant experience and an established record of success. In many cases, a civilian attorney may have greater experience than an appointed military attorney.

A hired attorney may also be able to provide more reliable representation. It is not uncommon for military attorneys to be reassigned or transferred, resulting in the assignment of a new legal representative even as a service member's case is moving forward. A civilian attorney can offer dedicated defense throughout the potentially lengthy appeals process.

3. Mitigating sanctions

A court-martial conviction can have devastating impacts on a person's career and access to military benefits that he or she would otherwise be entitled to. For example, according to National Public Radio, the ramifications of an other-than-honorable discharge can include the following:

  • Loss of assistance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Ineligibility for disability compensation
  • Loss of benefits provided under the GI Bill
  • Difficulty getting hired into private jobs

Courts-martial that result in the dismissal of an officer can lead to the same consequences, while in other cases, service members may face even more severe sanctions, such as confinement or death. An attorney may be able to help a person avoid these outcomes or at least minimize the sanctions that result from a conviction.

Choosing the right course

Before deciding to forgo hiring a lawyer, service members should consult with a civilian attorney to learn more about the benefits of securing private representation. Doing so may help a person make a more informed decision about the best options for protecting his or her legal rights and long-term interests.