Five things judges need to know about impaired driving and the military

By Col. Linda Strite Murnane (Ret.), USAF

It is summer time, which means family vacations and military moves. Sadly, it also means judges are likely to see military members in municipal or federal magistrate courts for impaired-driving offenses.

During a recent community outreach pilot project coordinated by The National Judicial College, Col. Tara Osborn (Ret.), former chief trial judge of the U.S. Army, said civilian judges will actually see more impaired drivers from the military in their courtrooms than military judges will see in theirs.

Here are five other takeaways from the event:

  1. In the United States, an offense involving impaired driving is ordinarily resolved where the offense occurred. But in some circumstances, military authorities may ask civilian authorities to let the military take jurisdiction. An example is when military members or military family members are victims of the offense.
  2. When the military justice system handles the case, the offender’s commander or the special or general court-martial convening authority gets to decide how to resolve the matter. For a civilian caught driving while impaired on a military installation, the federal magistrate is usually in charge with a special U.S. attorney military prosecutor often participating.
  3. Many impaired-driving offenses are adjudicated in the military using non-judicial punishment under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (10 U.S.C. Section 815). A resolution by non-judicial punishment (also known as Article 15, or “Captain’s Mast” in the Navy) does not result in a conviction but rather an “administrative disposition” of the offense. This means that if a military member shows up in a civilian courtroom, there may or may not be an accurate history indicating whether this was a first or subsequent impaired-driving offense.
  4. When a military member is detained or arrested for impaired driving—regardless of location—he or she is ordinarily sent for a substance-abuse evaluation through the military chain of command. Treatment using military resources is part of resolving the offense.
  5. Military members caught driving while impaired usually lose the privilege of operating a motor vehicle on the military installation. However, if the offense is resolved through Article 15 (non-judicial punishment), points are usually not assessed against the member’s civilian driver’s license.

These takeaways were part of the information shared at Operation Safe Arrival: Impaired Driving Interventions  for Veterans, Military Members, and their Families, held May 14, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. The pilot community outreach project was sponsored by the NJC through a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) grant and held at the Ohio State Bar Association’s headquarters.

Colonel Osborn was joined by Stephen Lynch, civilian attorney for the U.S. Coast Guard and co-chair of the Ohio State Bar Association Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, and Judge Scott Bergstedt.

The NJC, NHTSA, the American Bar Association Judicial Division and the Ohio State Bar Association partnered to bring together municipal court judges, federal magistrate judges, specialty docket coordinators, and military justice and military safety experts from the active duty, guard and reserve to brainstorm ways to coordinate resources.


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