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When members of the United States Armed Forces are accused of illegal activity while serving and the charges are of sufficient severity, there can be a court martial proceeding that can ultimately lead to penalties and a discharge. This is a fundamental part of military law. Since there are so many military personnel stationed in Virginia, it is important to understand how these cases are handled and the potential punishments they might face. Virginia is also the home to many former military members who might be under the impression that once they have left the service, they are no longer subject to its penalties. As a recent Supreme Court decision shows, that is not the case.

A retired Marine was subject to court martial after a 2015 sexual assault conviction. He wanted his case reviewed by the nation’s highest court. It rejected the request validating the possibility for retired members of the military to be court martialed for crimes that occurred after leaving the service. The man – a staff sergeant who had remained in Japan after his 20 years were up and he retired – was accused of sexual assault by a woman who was bartending at a bar he managed. He recorded it with his cellphone. He was convicted and court martialed.

He was reprimanded by the military, given a dishonorable discharge, and sentenced to eight years. A plea bargain allowed him to serve only 10 months. In September of last year, he filed to have the conviction overturned because he should have faced civilian justice instead of a military case. That request was denied with retirees being subject to court martial. The argument was that these trials and punishments are putting a person facing charges in a position where he or she is subject to their past circumstances and they no longer apply since there is no military rank, the person does not have the right to give orders, is not required to follow orders, does not perform duties, and is not part of regular military activity. The Supreme Court disagreed.

The Supreme Court denying the request to hear the case as to whether retired members of the military are subject to a court martial adds a new worry to those who have completed their service, are receiving military privileges and benefits, and can lose them if they are convicted of a crime after they have retired. A law firm that has experience in helping people by defending violations of military law can assist those who are facing court martial regardless of when it occurs. Calling for a consultation is the first step toward formulating that defense.