When a member of the military is accused of misconduct or criminal activity, that person’s commanding officer or general may initiate a preliminary inquiry to investigate the situation. Generally, the commanding officer will appoint a senior enlisted or officer within his/her command to investigate the allegations, and to produce a report that details what, if any, evidence was gathered. Lastly, the command investigator will provide a recommendation as to the disposition of the allegations – i.e. Article 15, or Court Martial. The investigation can be informal or very thorough, depending on the nature and severity of the allegations. Although, appointed command investigators are not professional investigators, such as Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS), the accused servicemember still has absolute rights under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the Constitution. If you are the subject of a command investigation, make sure you keep these do’s and don’t’s in mind throughout the process.
DO: Know your rights. First off, make sure you’re not being kept in the dark. If you are suspected of misconduct, an investigating officer must inform you of the allegations and read you your rights. Under Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), you have the right to consult with an attorney and the right to forgo making any kind of statement. You may also have the right to challenge findings in the investigation.
DON’T: Incriminate yourself. One of the rights mentioned above protects you from self-incrimination, meaning you aren’t required to make any sort of statement or answer questions about the accusations against you. It’s important that you exercise that right until you have a chance to speak with your lawyer. If you don’t stay silent, you risk saying something that may be used against you. A servicemember, who is the subject of a command investigation, can expect to have his statements used against him at his Court Martial.
DO: Understand the purpose of the investigation. The preliminary inquiry is not a criminal proceeding in itself; it’s designed to give the commander more information — quickly, usually in 72 hours. Once the commander knows more, he can dispose of the allegations at his level, or he can forward to a higher command, with his/her recommendation on how to dispose of the allegations. The investigation itself will aim to find evidence of your guilt or innocence, as well as the presence of aggravation, extenuating circumstances, and mitigating factors.
DON’T: Forget the consequences. Although the inquiry won’t necessarily lead to law enforcement actions, they may prompt the commander to recommend disciplinary actions or criminal charges. Even if an investigation starts out as something more innocuous, it can result in criminal charges as new evidence arises. A car accident, for instance, can turn into a DUI charge as the investigator collects BAC test results, police reports, and witness statements. Besides a potential criminal record, command investigations can also result in repercussions for your military career in general, so the process should never be taken lightly.
DO: Get a qualified lawyer. Considering the possible consequences, you must take the command investigation process seriously and get an assertive, experienced lawyer on your side. The right attorney can protect your rights, advise you about statements, answer your questions about the proceedings, help you challenge findings, and much more. Contact Military Justice Attorneys to get legal assistance from an established civilian military law firm with several years of experience in command investigations.