Military and DUI

Drinking, driving and serving can be a dangerous mix. That may be the reason why there are specific guidelines concerning DUI or DWI charges when the subject of military personnel is involved. Whether you are already in the military, or you are looking to join, a charge of driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence can seriously impact a military career.

Active duty military often have significantly different protocols than civilians in many aspects of life. The legal system is no different. If a driver is charged with DWI or DUI and they are an active duty military personnel, they will be held to the standards of military law. This may differ from the state’s guidelines, and often can be seen regarding the definition of the legal level of blood alcohol content, first time offenders, or other specifics.

Because members of the military are bound by military law, DUI/DWI cases are held in military courts. The consequences- loss of license, fines, and possible jail time- are similar, however military convictions can also result in a dishonorable discharge. Because of this, it is absolutely necessary that those charged with DUI/DWI are acquitted or dismissed if they want to continue their military career.

Although active duty military DUI/DWI cases are held in military court and governed by military law, a civilian attorney can assist, but they must be very knowledgeable in military law. Military court proceedings are processed a lot faster than civilian cases, and are never heard by a jury. Their sentencing is also less focused  on reducing impact to the community and rehabilitating the driver. Military DUI/DWI cases have sentencing that affects the career of the driver including pay rate reduction, rank reduction, or loss of clearances.

For those who are considering a career in the military, a DUI or DWI can be just as devastating. Although the impact of a civilian conviction may be more manageable than a military one, having a conviction makes it more difficult to join. For many situations of DUI or DWI, special permission is required to join.

Like many careers, the military does a background check. However unlike many careers, the military specifically requires that enlistees be of high moral character. The high moral character requirement was created to reduce the likelihood of enlisting those that will later be seen in military court for the same type of offenses or potentially become criminals. One conviction of DUI or DWI is considered a disqualifier and could potentially determine an enlistee to not be of high moral character.

There are exceptions however. Enlistees that notify their recruiter about their DUI or DWI conviction can request a waiver. Waivers can be requested for those convicted of no more than two DUI or DWIs. If permitted to enlist with the waiver, however, they will most likely not be able to work in positions with high level security clearances.

Because the definition of high moral character is so specific, it is almost always necessary to have DUI or DWI charges dismissed if you are considering enlisting. For example, if the potential enlistee is able to reduce a DUI/DWI charge to a traffic conviction, they still could face a waiver requirement if the fine for the traffic offense is more than $100.

If you are thinking about enlisting in the military, or you are in the military, a DUI or DWI is a very serious offense. In addition to the normal legal ramifications of a DUI/DWI conviction it also can result in military career suicide. However, with a good defense and the right legal team, it does not have to end your livelihood.

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Shannon I. Wilson, Esq.

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