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charged with a dui on a military base

How Serious Is a DUI on a Military Installation?

Being charged for driving under the influence (DUI) as a civilian is a serious offense, and one that can result in jail time, a license suspension, a large fine, and other potential consequences. When a civilian is arrested and charged for DUI, the process that follows is relatively straightforward – charges will be read, the defendant will have an opportunity to defend himself/herself or enter a plea bargain, and the party will either be found not guilty or guilty (the latter of which will result in sentencing from the court).

For members of the military on a military installation who are charged for DUI, the process may be more complicated. The defendant may face both civilian penalties and punishments under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Consider the following about the severity of a DUI on a military installation, and call our lawyers directly for help from an experienced military law attorney.

Arrest for a DUI Off Base

If you are arrested for DUI by a civilian police officer off base, your case will likely be prosecuted by the state. In Colorado, a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least .08 percent results in criminal charges brought by the state as well as an administrative penalty license suspension of at least nine months. If you are arrested and have DUI charges brought against you by the state, you will have the same rights as a civilian in defending yourself, including the right to an attorney.

It is important to note that even if the civilian court acquits you of DUI charges, the military could still pursue punitive action against you for the same DUI incident before or after the conclusion of the civilian case. It could involve a court martial – in the Navy it’s called Captain’s Mast.

Arrest for DUI On-Base/ Punishments Under Uniform Code of Military Justice

If you are arrested for a DUI or DWAI (Driving while Ability Impaired) on base, you will likely face penalties under the UCMJ. This may be the case even if you face civilian penalties for the DUI.

Even if civilian criminal charges do not apply to you, the Colorado DMV may still suspend your driver’s license, require you to install an interlock ignition device, or impose other administrative penalties (through the state) that impact your driving privileges.

Section 10 U.S.C. Section 911 addresses the impaired operation of a motor vehicle or vessel. Under the code, an offending party may be subject to both adverse administrative actions and a court-martial. The action that is taken against you may be up to the discretion of your commanding officer. Typically, there are two categories of actions that are taken against those who commit DUIs while on a military installation: administrative and punitive.

DUI/DWAI Conviction – Civil Consequences 

In Colorado, you may be convicted for DUI if your BAC is .08 or higher, or you may be convicted for DWAI if your BAC is .05 or higher. You may also face DUI/DWAI charges even if your BAC is below the legal limit if there is other evidence that you were driving while chemically impaired.

The state may impose penalties for a DUI conviction, which could include imprisonment up to one year, a fine of up to $1,500, and driver’s license suspension for up to one year. Penalties will increase in the case of a second or subsequent DUI conviction or if there are aggravated circumstances, such as a DUI accident with severe injuries or fatalities. The penalties for a DWAI in Colorado are less stiff.

DUI/DWAI Conviction – Military Consequences

If you are convicted for DUI or DWAI in a civil case while serving in the military, you may face military consequences separately from the civil consequences. Your constitutional protection against double jeopardy does not apply in this situation, because the civil and military justice systems are considered distinctly separate.

As we touched on earlier, your military career could be significantly affected if punitive action is imposed on you under the UCMJ, irrespective of whether the DUI incident occurred on or off base. Punitive actions could include:

  • Extra military duty (and that normally means work that’s unpleasant and/or difficult)
  • Lowered rank, pay scale, and wage
  • Letter of Reprimand
  • Diminished rations or confinement
  • PCS orders or suspended deployment
  • Non-Judicial Punishment
  • A suspension board or a court martial

Lower Burden of Proof for Punitive Action

Unlike a civilian case, the burden of proof in the case of a military punitive action is significantly lower. Disciplinary action for a DUI may be taken for any sufficient impairment. Punitive action may be imposed even before the civil court has found you guilty for DUI. These actions can be taken regardless of which branch of the military you may be a part of.

Risk of Dishonorable Discharge

In addition to the consequences that may apply under the UCMJ, a DUI conviction for military personnel could result in a dishonorable discharge which is beyond a loss of rank. This will also negatively affect your monetary situation.

This could damage your future civilian career as well – certainly if you had law enforcement on your mind as a possible future career. Considering how much you potentially stand to lose, make sure that you have a strong Colorado DUI attorney on your side with experience in military DUI cases.

A knowledgeable attorney will focus on a range of factors that could influence the outcome of your case. They will examine the sequence of events from all angles and identify any flaws that may have occurred in the procedure. Some of the key factors that would bear examination include:

  • Any previous DUI record or other arrest history
  • Breathalyzer test results confirmation and equipment certification
  • Video of the field sobriety test
  • Sample collection and sample testing procedures to determine BAC

A rapid legal response and a robust DUI defense is vital to help ensure the possible delay, deferment, or dismissal of any serious military penalties in your case.

One final note: Being convicted for DUI in a civilian court does not necessarily mean that the military will reprimand you as well, and vice versa. In some cases, the civilian and military courts will coordinate to determine how the case should proceed, handing over jurisdiction to one or the other. It is more likely that you will face penalties under the UCMJ if you are facing secondary or subsequent DUI charges, or if your DUI resulted in injury or death to any person.

Call an Experienced Criminal Defense and Military Law Attorney

Facing DUI charges can be intimidating and nerve-racking. If you’re a member of the military who was arrested for a DUI while on a military installation, the consequences that you’re potentially facing may be even more serious. Rather than risk your military career and your future, it is strongly recommended that you consult with an attorney familiar in military law.

At the office of Anderson & Carnahan Attorneys at Law, Attorney Stephen Anderson has years of experience in Colorado military defense law. As a former infantry sergeant and part of the Air Force JAG team, attorney Anderson understands the inner workings of military cases and knows how to effectively navigate both military and civilian criminal cases.

To improve your chances of a favorable outcome when facing DUI charges, either civilian or military, call our law firm today. You can reach our team by phone at (719) 473-9099 or by sending us a message directly. We will provide you with the competent representation you deserve.