Military legal assistance can’t represent you in criminal proceedings. If you have a non-military criminal case (for example, a DUI or a domestic violence charge), you should seek help from the local public defender or the local legal bar.
Military members facing discharge from the military or criminal prosecution by the military (court-marital) should seek assistance from military attorneys known as trial defense or area defense counsels, and NOT from military legal assistance attorneys. You can also hire civilian defense attorneys to represent you in military proceedings. The following questions and answers should provide you some guidance on these issues.
What should someone look for when hiring a civilian attorney for representation during military criminal proceedings
When looking to hire a civilian attorney for any matter, it is important to find someone who is experienced (done it before), successful (done it well), current (done it well recently), affordable (within your budget), reliable (does what is promised), and trustworthy (keeps confidences). When looking to hire a civilian attorney for military proceedings, it is helpful if the attorney has experience with the proceedings (be it a court-martial or discharge board) for the military service in question–the more successful experience the better.
Ideally, the attorney will have served on active duty as a JAG (military attorney) and participated successfully in similar proceedings as a JAG. It is also helpful if the civilian attorney has recent experience with similar proceedings as a civilian counsel because military boards and panels sometimes view civilian counsel differently than those who are a JAG.
Another plus is if the civilian attorney has actually litigated military cases, as opposed to simply negotiating a plea or administrative separation agreement. The vast majority of courts-martial are resolved by plea agreements, and are rarely fully litigated. If you need someone to represent you in a fully contested military proceeding (such as a court-martial), look for civilian attorneys who have that sort of experience. Also check to see if the military proceedings require an attorney to have special certifications. For example, in order for an attorney to represent a veteran seeking VA benefits, the attorney must receive special training on veterans’ law and be certified by the VA. As a rule, military proceedings do not impose special certification requirements, but it never hurts to ask.
How do I find a trial defense or area defense counsel?
The simplest option is to contact the nearest military legal assistance office and ask for contact information for the nearest trial defense or area defense counsel office. If that does not work, contact ANY military trial defense or area defense counsel’s office, and ask if they can provide you with contact information for the office closest to you. For example, a recent google search for “Area Defense Counsel Air Force” retrieved dozens of web sites and phone numbers for Air Force area defense counsel offices around the globe. Each office should have a list of contact information for every other office in the military legal defense community.
I have been accused of a crime, and I cannot afford a lawyer. What can I do?
If the government accuses you of committing a crime, the United States Constitution guarantees you the right to be represented by a lawyer in any case in which you could be incarcerated for six months or more. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the judge handling the case will either appoint a private lawyer to represent you free of charge or the government’s public defender will handle your case, also at no charge.
If you already know you are eligible for military legal assistance and that your case qualifies for legal assistance representation, you can find the nearest office by searching at your assigned installation or asking your command