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Article 31(b) Rights: What Every Service Member Needs to Know

Under the Fifth Amendment, civilians have the right to protect themselves from compulsory self-incrimination. In the seminal ruling in Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Supreme Court ruled that if a person was under custody (that is, they could reasonably believe that they could not leave the interrogation), they must be read their Miranda rights. You hear this everywhere on tv. To Mirandize a civilian is to tell them that they right to remain silent, that they have the right to have a lawyer present during questioning, and that the court will appoint one to them if they cannot afford one. Things work just a little differently for military service members accused of a crime by military authorities.

The Differences Between Miranda Rights vs. Article 31(b)

Similar to this, the military has its own version entrenched in Article 31(b) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), with three main differences:

  1. You are told what crime you are accused of with Article 31(b); under Miranda, you are not.
  2. You are told of your Article 31(b) rights any time you are being questioned, not just when you are in custody, as with civilians under Miranda.
  3. You are NOT told that you may have counsel present prior to or during the investigation. This is what we are here for at Military Justice Attorneys.

What You Need to Know

Article 31(b) provides that:

  1. No one who is subject to the code is compelled to incriminate themselves. It is important to know that this includes everyone who is subject to the code, so that means everyone who is an agent of the military. In a recent Marine case in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, the prosecutors, over our objections, were able to have a Wounded Warrior Care Coordinator, who was a civilian, testify against our client.  Specifically, the Care Coordinator was able to testify as to admissions made by the accused about the night in question even though the Care Coordinator admitted she had suspected the accused of wrongdoing, knew that Article 31b Rights applied to the accused, but failed to instruct the accused of her rights to self incrimination; and, after the interview reported the statements made by the accused to the Commanding Officer, who convened the court martial.  Unlike, the Care Coordinator, who was able to testify, the accused Staff Noncommissioned Officer was not able to testify, because the Staff Noncommissioned Officer was subject to the code and admitted to suspecting the accused, but failing to advise the accused of her Article 31b Rights prior to questioning.  
  2. You must be told three things:
    1. Of what you stand accused or suspected of,
    2. That you have the right to remain silent, and
    3. Anything you say onwards could be used as evidence against you.

No one may interrogate or request any statements from you unless these criteria are met.

  1. Furthermore, no one can obtain a statement or produce evidence against you if it is not material to the issue at hand. However, even though statements made by the accused without Article 31b Rights warning cannot be used for the ultimately fact at issue — guilt or innocence — the prosecutors can use the accused statements at trial for other purposes such as, lack of mistake, or consciousness of guilt. To put it more simply, if the evidence or statement is only meant to degrade or embarrass you, and it is not related to the alleged crime, then it is not allowed to be used against you.
  2. If a statement or evidence has been procured against you that was obtained through coercion, duress, or unlawful inducement, then it cannot be used against you in a court martial

If you ever find yourself being interrogated, you may feel pressured to answer to a superior or a higher ranking official. They may try to get you to say anything, in fact. If this happens, do not say or write down anything. Be clear that you wish to have an attorney present, and that you wish to exercise your Article 31(b) rights

Investigators are not your friend. They are there to draw information from you and use it against you in any way if you are a suspect. Of course, do not lie if you do speak to them because that will only worsen the situation.

It is of the utmost importance that you call an experienced attorney if this ever happens to you. The most important rule you should always remember is to never talk to anyone without an attorney present, and that you should call one right away. We hope this blog helped you answer any questions you may have about Article 31(b) and your rights. We at Military Justice Attorneys are ready to work with you any time, so call us at (844) 334-5459 if you ever find yourself in this situation.

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