My child is in trouble at a distant military base. What can I do?
As a parent who sends a son or daughter off to serve their country, it is frightening to receives notification—either from your child, or from their chain of command—that they are in serious legal trouble. The dedicated young man or woman that you saw graduate from training, who had shown such promise starting their military career, suddenly finds themselves in trouble—medical, administrative, or legal—and are confined, moved to a “separations” or “administrative processing” unit, or have their liberty restricted pending some adverse action. Or worse yet, the military contacts you and tells that they are “UA” (unauthorized absence) or “AWOL,” (absent without leave), and there is a warrant out for their arrest.
You may find yourself seeking answers to questions like these:
- My son or daughter has left the service without permission, and doesn’t know what to do next. How can I help them?
- My son or daughter has been placed into pretrial confinement or restriction, and nothing seems to be happening. How can I help?
- I have spoken to my son or daughter’s military attorney, but he doesn’t return my calls, and my son or daughter indicates that they have not met to discuss their case?
- What can a civilian military lawyer do for my son or daughter?
My son or daughter has left the service without permission, and doesn’t know what to do next. How can I help them?
Unauthorized absence (UA) or Absence without leave (AWOL) are potentially serious offenses under the UCMJ, and the severity of the offense increase with each day your service member is gone. The offense becomes even more serious after 30 days, when the military often declares the service member to be a “deserter” and issues a warrant–called a “DD Form 553”– for their arrest. Another aggravating factor occurs if their return is “involuntary”—that is, the police stop them in a routine traffic stop and discover the deserter warrant, or local authorities come to the house with a warrant for their arrest.
Active Duty military lawyers are not authorized to do much more than advise a service member to turn themselves in, and are prevented from taking your son or daughter as a client until they are charged or confined. An experienced civilian military attorney can assist in turning your son or daughter in, start working with them and beginning to seek to minimize the damage immediately upon their return.
My son or daughter has been placed into pretrial confinement, restriction, or some sort of “administrative unit,” and nothing seems to be happening. How can I help?
Often young men and women join the armed forces, complete their basic training, and then encounter problems that derail them from their goals of becoming productive members of their occupational field. The causes can be many—an injury during training, the uncovering of a pre-existing physical or emotional problem that was not known until exposure to the stress of military service, or the effect of poor decisions, such as use of drugs resulting in a positive urinalysis, or periods of unauthorized absences (known as AWOL in the Army and Air Force, UA in the Navy and Marine Corps). Once encountering these problems, they are categorized as separate from those who are progressing in a normal career, and frequently moved into central collection points, sometimes called “legal companies or platoons,” “separations companies or platoons,” “Transient Personnel Units,”or “Remain Behind Elements “ pending administrative or disciplinary proceedings.
The conditions of these central collections points often present real difficulties to these young men and women. Because of their disciplinary status, they have little motivation to grow, improve, or progress toward a definable goals. They are housed with others who have a low level of motivation, and frequently fall under the influence of people who could inspire them to get in more trouble.
At the same time, the units that are processing them often have no sense of urgency because of their focus on the military mission or an upcoming deployment, and as a result these young men and women linger in the units for months without any forward progress in their cases. This results in waste of time, the danger of additional misconduct, and the potential for more negative characterizations of service.
Too often, military defense lawyers have minimal contact with service members in these units, and have little obligation to follow through after they play their part of advising them of their rights and assisting them in making a processing decision. A civilian military attorney can intervene early, follow through the entire process, prod the command when things stall, and getting your service member either back into work or out into a place where he or she can begin to progress and grow again.
I have spoken to my son or daughter’s military attorney, but he doesn’t return my calls, and my son or daughter indicates that they have not met to discuss their case?
Your son or daughter rates the advice and counsel of a active duty military lawyer at certain stages of the administrative or disciplinary process. That advice, however, is often limited by three significant factors:
- Active duty military lawyers are not permitted to form attorney client relationships with person pending action until after charges are filed, a person is confined, or some other triggering event. This often gives the prosecutor a significant period of time to prepare their case before the accused person has the right to consult with military counsel. Military lawyers’ representation also revolves around a discrete “specific” proceeding, and does not involve the duty to follow through on administrative matters after that proceeding is complete.
- Military lawyers function in the role of “public defenders,” and often are carrying significant case loads. They tend to focus on the more “serious” cases first, and begin to exert more energy toward the case as a significant milestone approaches. As a result, less serious cases tend to linger on the back burner until a crisis time arrives.
- Military lawyers are often relatively young and inexperienced. They are graduates of certified law schools and have received training in military law, but quite frequently are in their first or second year of actual practice, and may have been a defense attorney for relatively few months due to their rotation through other jobs. As a result, they are struggling mightily to learn an unfamiliar system. Experience shows that they are generally eager, bright, honest and conscientious in the performing of their duties. But they are, in essence, cutting their teeth in the case that significantly impacts your child’s future.
What can a civilian attorney do for my son or daughter?
Civilian military lawyers are not subject to these limitations. Jeffrey Meeks has 31 years of experience in all aspects of the military justice system, and can respond immediately to the needs of your son or daughter. He’s handled all types of cases in the military, from the most minor desertion case to the most severe death penalty murder trials. In the Southern California area, he has easy access to the Navy and Marine Corps confinement facilities and administrative processing units, and can meet personally and immediately with your son or daughter—even if they are confined or restricted. With your help, he can intervene immediately to start working to protect their rights, represent them aggressively in the military system, and work toward the best possible outcome in their case.