If you have been charged or are suspected with violating the UCMJ, your good military character may be a defense. If used properly, the “Good Soldier Defense” can be effective tool for an experienced attorney to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the judge or jury about whether you committed the alleged crime.
MJA has successfully used the “Good Solider Defense” for service members facing courts-martial, administrative separations, and adverse administrative actions. Contact our military defense lawyers today to learn more.
Military Rule of Evidence 404(a) allows a service member to admit evidence of their good military character to disprove criminal allegations against them. Good military character evidence can be presented in the form of reputation and/or opinion of a third party who has ample interactions with them to form such a positive opinion. For example, a third party witness could testify to a service member’s exceptional military character while in combat, or comment on their military appearance or professionalism. Furthermore, that same witness could testify to a service member’s duty performance while in garrison or on post; adherence to courtesies and customs; and, the qualities of their personal character.
The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) restricted the “Good Soldier Defense” to crimes in which a service member’s character is directly relevant to one of the charged offenses. For example, a service member facing allegations of financial crimes or drug offenses could admit evidence of their good military character to prove their innocence. The NDAA made the “Good Soldier Defense” not apply, however, to more serious crimes like sexual assault, rape, stalking, robbery, wrongful appropriation and larceny, making checks with insufficient funds, forgery, arson, sodomy, housebreaking, burglary, extortion, frauds against the U.S., and perjury.
The “Good Soldier Defense” can be effective both at trial and on appeal. For example, in United States v. Bagstad, a Marine Staff Sergeant was convicted at special court-martial of wrongful use of marijuana in violation of Article 112a, UCMJ, and sentenced to a bad-conduct discharge. At trial, the Marine presented a classic good military character defense highlighting his 14 years of service, security clearance, military awards, and fitness reports. On appeal, the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals found that the Marine’s good military character defense was undercut by a piece of inadmissible evidence, shaking their confidence in the fairness of the conviction. Because the case involved a “naked” urinalysis and the Marine had a strong military character defense, he was given the benefit of the doubt on appeal and the case was overturned.
Once a service member brings their military character in as evidence, the prosecution is allowed to attack that character evidence to nullify the defense. If not properly prepared, the process may cause more damage to your case.
Military charges are extremely serious and require legal counsel that should be retained as soon as possible. Call us today at (843) 473-3665 for a free consultation.