Military Lawyer Vs. Civilian Lawyer, What Are the Key Differences?

A military lawyer, commonly known as a JAG attorney, is appointed to represent a service member when they face legal action in a court-martial.

The government provides military lawyers for free to service members to address cases that happen within the military. Some of service member’s branches that can get a JAG lawyer representation, as outlined in the Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA), include:

·  Marines

·  Air force

·  Navy

·  Army

On the other hand, a civilian lawyer is an attorney who has experience handling military cases hired by a service member to represent them when facing a court-martial trial.

A service member facing legal action may choose to hire a civilian attorney even when they already have a free state-appointed JAG attorney. In some instances, a civilian lawyer may provide better representation for the defendant than the military lawyer in a court-martial trial.

If you’re wondering how this is possible, you need to learn about the differences between a military and a civilian attorney.

1. Difference in Training

Civilian lawyers must go through an accredited law school and pass a state bar exam before practicing law.

However, military attorneys need to undergo special training in addition to possessing regular legal attorney credentials. JAG attorneys must go through JAG training where they are taught military law and how to represent their clients in a court-martial. This means JAG attorneys become highly knowledgeable in martial law, but it also means that they’re strictly taught to follow military rules.

The downside is that military lawyers continue to follow military rules even when handling their client’s cases. For instance, a JAG attorney may not provide their client with the best defense due to respect for the chain of command or rank. Further, JAG attorneys may also be subject to restraints such as limitations on approaching the media based on military rules.

On the other hand, civilian lawyers may be allowed to bypass some of the military procedures. Besides, civilian counsel isn’t worried about the chain of command as they are only answerable to their client.

2. Different Rules and Procedures

JAG attorneys follow the uniform code of military justice (UCMJ) when representing a defendant in a court-martial.

Although civilian lawyers still have to abide by the court-martial routine, they follow laws governing civilian law judicial action.

The difference in rules and procedures allows civilian attorneys to have the freedom to explore military cases from both the military and civilian angles, which can be beneficial to the defendant.

3. A Different Jury

The jury will be the one to give the verdict in your military case. So, we must highlight any differences that might exist between the two courts.

The jury in the civilian court has 12 jurors, and part of the jurors must be regular people chosen by the lawyers. The army has smaller juries, and the number can range between three to twelve members. The members of the jury in the martial court are commissioned officers.

Moreover, a civilian court can give a hung jury where a jury’s unanimous decision is requested. There is no hung jury in the court-martial, and only two-thirds of the jury members need to vote to give a verdict.  However, in the case of the death penalty, the military jury is expected to give a unanimous decision.

Another difference is that the jury in court-martial gives one verdict for all the crimes committed by the defendant. The civilian court gives separate sentences for each crime the client has committed.

The result of these differences is that in some instances, injustices occur in the military court when only two-thirds of the jury members give a decision or when the defendant is found guilty without considering that they may have been innocent on some counts.

4. Appeal Process Is Different

If you aren’t satisfied with a court’s decision, you can always go to the court of appeal to have the decision reevaluated by someone in higher authority.

The process of filing an appeal between civilian and military attorneys is different.  Every military branch has its appellate court. The request also has to go through a chain of command for a given period. There is no way the process can be speeded up, and every link in the chain must evaluate the appeal.

Civilian attorneys have no set process for appealing a case. The attorney can forward the matter to either the federal or circuit court.

This difference makes civilian attorneys more prepared and skilled when it comes to court-martial appeals. They have experience dealing with both the military and the civilian appeal processes.

5. You Have No Choice in the Appointment of Your Military Counsel

The state chooses the JAG attorney for you. You don’t get to consider their experience, personality, or character. Besides, military attorneys have a workload of cases to deal with. The huge workload may not give them enough time to give your case their undivided attention. 

When selecting a civilian attorney, you have a choice in the kind of lawyer you want. You get to check if their personality is compatible with yours and their years of experience handling similar cases.  Besides, the lawyer will only take the case if they know they have the time to work on it.

In closing, JAG attorneys are competent lawyers that are well trained in military law. However, getting a civilian lawyer for your military case may favor you as your attorney will get to review your case from both the military and civilian lenses. Besides, getting a civilian lawyer doesn’t mean you have to give up your state-appointed JAG lawyer. The two attorneys can work together to give you the best representation.

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