Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is dangerous not just for the driver but for everyone that is using the roads. DUI has been proven to be the leading cause of many car accidents in the country today. This explains why there are strict laws against DUI in California, especially for military members. However, this does not mean that everyone that is stopped and arrested on a DUI charge is guilty. If you are facing an arrest or you are arrested for DUI in Vista or the greater North County, a Vista DUI Attorney can help secure for you the best outcome for your situation.

Legal Definition of DUI

Driving under Influence (DUI) happens when one is found operating a motor vehicle while their blood alcohol content is above the legal limits set by the law, which are believed to be the levels that are safe for people to drive. It can also include driving while intoxicated with drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol.

According to the California Per Se law (Vehicle Code 23152 (b)), a person should not drive with a BAC level exceeding 0.08%, otherwise, they will be considered driving under the influence of alcohol. Generally, according to Vehicle Code 23152 (a), it is unlawful to drive when you are under the influence of any alcoholic beverage.

One is regarded to be under the control or influence if they are drunk while driving and also if their driving ability has been affected by drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol.

DUI penalties in the state vary greatly based on the circumstances of the crime. However, the law is apparent on the punishments for anyone found guilty of DUI. The severity of the penalties will be based on the number of prior convictions that the defendant has. In addition to the sanctions, a DUI conviction will stay on the defendant's criminal record and be considered as a previous conviction for up to ten years.

DUI and Military Members

In all parts of the country today, a DUI conviction is a grave matter for a civilian. A first-time offender can get a jail term of up to one year and fines that can amount to $1800. For military members, the implications of such a crime can be more severe. An adult driver in California is allowed to drive with a BAC of 0.08% and drivers under 21 years of age are only allowed a blood alcohol concentration of 0.01%.

In addition to the usual DUI penalties, civilians in San Diego and California, in general, get a suspension of the driver's license, probation, and a permanent criminal record. In case the issue is severer, and maybe a lot of people were injured and property destroyed through accidents as a result of drunk driving, the offender may face a felony sentence, with penalties which can go up to 10 years in jail.

Getting a DUI in California may seem very bad, but for the military members, the penalties can be steeper. For starters, a member of the U.S. military’s career is likely to get affected if they happen to get a DUI charge. If the member is found guilty of the offense and he/she is convicted, he could face the following:

  • A dishonorable discharge from the military
  • Rank reduction
  • Pay reduction
  • Monetary Fines
  • Loss of security clearance
  • Imprisonment

For military members, a simple conviction of DUI is enough to ruin one’s hard work as well as put his/her career in the military service to an end. Getting a dishonorable discharge from the service is not something one can take lightly; many members of the service work hard to avoid it at all cost.

Being in the military comes with many benefits that no one wants to forego so easily. The service in itself is a great promise for a future career, as well as a strong college education. Some people get both of these while others enjoy more benefits. This explains why you need to hire a highly qualified DUI attorney as soon as you are arrested for DUI not just to protect your legal rights but also to protect your reputation in the force.

Most offenses in the military bases are handled by military courts, but when it comes to DUI, these courts don’t get exclusive jurisdiction. For cases such as DUI, civilian courts can also have authority liable to where the arrest or incident took place. However, if in the beginning military DUI cases are filed by both civilian and military authorities, both the courts will get together to decide on how the offender will be prosecuted. It is important to note that DUI charges can sometimes result to both civilian and military charges, so if one of the courts acquits you, you may have to answer to the allegations in the other entity.

Generally speaking, the military has authority over any crime committed by service members on active duty, but if any crimes are committed by military members wherever they may be, the authority becomes the civilian courts. Here are some of the instances used in determining jurisdiction for military DUI:

If a service member has been arrested for DUI on a military base

When this happens, the defendant will be charged in a military court under the power of the Uniform Code provided in Art 111 Section 911 of the Military Justice Law. In addition to this, he/she will be subjected to both adverse administrative actions and a court-martial. For this type of DUI crime, the defendant will not be tried in a civilian court for DUI charges, but he/she may still face some penalties such as suspension of his driver's license, a requirement to use an interlock device as well as other non-criminal penalties that could affect his/her driving privileges.

If a civilian police officer arrests a service member for DUI out of the base

If a military member is arrested outside a military installation by civilian authorities and he/she is charged with DUI, he/she will most likely be tried in a civilian court. However, the defendant's commanding officer in the military base may decide to take administrative actions concurrently with the civilian authorities. Some of the penalties he/she can face in addition to the standard criminal charges in the civilian court include corrective training, mandatory treatment for substance abuse and getting his/her pass privileges revoked. In addition to that, the army may also try the DUI offender with other offenses that are related to the DUI crime, such as disorderly conduct. After the civilian case is concluded, the military could also bring up the same DUI charges against the offender.

If a civilian is arrested for DUI on a military base

If this ever happens, the defendant will be charged in a federal court and not in a state court, though the state’s DUI laws will be used to convict him/her. This is because there are currently no federal DUI statutes that could apply to civilians. This is something that could happen to a member of the service member’s family, his/her friends and also civilian employees working on the base or those who have access to the military base.

Penalties for Military DUI

Any military member that is found guilty of drunk driving while on the military base is punishable by his/her commanding officer. Since the commanding officer has authority to decide on how to proceed with the case, the offender may get a non-judicial penalty as per Article 15, a court-martial or the commanding officer may punish the offender through administrative penalties.

These penalties will fall into two main categories namely punitive action and administrative action.

Punitive Action for Military Members

Punitive actions will include:

  • A court-martial, whose sentences may consist of grade reduction, forfeiture of the offender's pay, discharge from the military or imprisonment;
  • A non-judicial punishment as provided in the UCMJ’s Article 15, which is commonly called captain’s Mast or Office Hours.

A court-martial

This is a military court which conducts trials just like a civilian court. The court is designed to determine the fate of military members who commit crimes that go against martial law. In this court, if the defendant is found guilty, the court will decide on the appropriate punishment for the type of offense committed. Other than conducting crimes for military offenders on base, the court-martial can be used to try officers who commit war crimes. Civilian offenders can be tried in these courts too if they violate the martial law.

A DUI charge is a severe offense to the military members, and therefore, it is a type of crime that can be tried in a court-martial, which is believed to have stricter penalties than civilian courts.

Article 111 of the UCMJ is evident that any military officer who operates a vehicle recklessly or wantonly, while drunk or even while impaired by alcohol or drugs shall be punished as the court-martial directs.

There are mainly three types of Court Martials:

  1. The summary court-martial is used to try service members who have committed minor offenses. This type of court will not have lawyers from Judge Advocate General or a military magistrate but only a commissioned officer. If found guilty of DUI in this court, you might be sentenced to hard labor for 40 days, confinement for about a month, a month of a pay cut or a reduced rank;
  2. The special courts-martial are the court that handles more serious offenses and operates just like a civilian criminal court, and the accused gets a defense attorney to represent their plea. The maximum penalty in this court will be confinement to up to one year, six months of no pay, discharge from the service for lousy conduct, or hard labor for three months;
  • The general court-martial is the military court that handles most of the severe offenses. If a DUI military offender is tried here, they might get the maximum sentence allowed by UCMJ, which may include a dishonorable discharge from the service.

A non-judicial penalty as per Article 15

The military as a particular unit has its separate laws and guidelines, which are provided in the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice). In case one of the service members breaks any of the rules, and the offense is severe enough, he may require a legal hearing. In this case, the offender may request for a court-martial, in which case, he/she will be tried by a jury comprised of warrant officers, military officers, and any other enlisted member depending on the rank of the offender. The defendant's chain of command, in most cases, hears some of the offenses that are seen as of lesser magnitude.

A minor DUI offense by a military officer may not require a judicial hearing, and so, UCMJ's Article 15 permits the defendant's commanding officer to decide on whether the accused is guilty or not. If the defendant is found guilty, the commanding officer will have to administer the kind of punishment that matches the magnitude of the offense.

Article 15 is a non-judicial punishment, which allows the immediate superior officers of a minor offender to handle all cases that happen on the base.

Administrative Action for Military Members

Administrative action against a DUI military offender can include revocation of the pass, reprimand, revocation of driving privileges, corrective training, and a bar to reenlistment or reduction of grade, depending on the offender's rank. Sometimes the offender's commanding officer may suggest necessary treatment for substance abuse. A military officer who has two DUI-related severe cases in one year will be penalized differently and more severely.

Note that the nature of the offense is the first thing that determines possible penalties for DUI military offenders. A case of careless driving with no severe consequences may not be as severely punished as a case whereby a drunk military driver causes an accident resulting in the death or another person or property destruction.

The circumstances of the offense will also be considered to know if the offense is minor or severe. This way, it is possible to see where the case will try and who will punish the offender.

The defendant has a right to demand a trial by court-martial in place of getting a non-judicial penalty.

Before getting a non-judicial punishment, the results of the investigation into the matter must be tabled to establish whether or not the penalty the accused will get will be fair.

Possible Defenses for DUI Military Crimes

If you are tried in a court martial or a civilian court, there are possible defenses that your DUI attorney can use to get you a fair trial.

Inaccurate sobriety tests

It is not enough to say that the accused was operating a vehicle while drunk. Tests have to be conducted on the defendant to be presented before the court as proof that indeed the accused was drunk and therefore a risk to other road users. A smart DUI attorney will be able to tell whether or not the results are accurate. If there was a problem with the testing gadgets or the tests were not correctly done, the results may not be relevant in the court, and so, the prosecutor may lose the case.

There was no probable cause for alarm

If you are arrested for DUI, reasons for your arrest must be presented before the court as evidence that you were indeed drunk and disorderly on the road. If the police have no probable cause for alarm, but they arrested you and tested you, any evidence they present cannot be accepted in the court as evidence. If the defendant did not act in a manner to suggest that they were driving under the influence, the police were not right in stopping and arresting him/her.

The defendant’s rights were violated during the arrest

The accused has rights in a court-martial that are as important as the case itself. In case of violation of these rights during the court proceeding or any other military criminal process, your DUI attorney can take advantage of that to have your case thrown out or to bargain lesser penalties for you. Some of these rights include the right to be told why you have been arrested, the right to stay quiet so as not to incriminate oneself and the right to be protected against double jeopardy.

Find a Vista DUI Attorney Near Me

Getting a DUI as a military member is a more serious crime than a regular DUI offense. You may end up facing the wrath of your immediate commanding officer, or a trial in a court-martial. The most important thing to do as soon as you are arrested is to seek the help of an experienced military DUI attorney. We invite you to contact the Vista DUI Attorney Law Firm if you are in this situation. Our lawyers are well versed with the UCMJ laws and the rights of defendants in DUI cases. You can benefit significantly from advice and representation in the court-martial for the best outcome. Call our Vista DUI Lawyer at 760-691-1540 if you are in Vista or the North County area.