DUI in the Military

It’s never smart to drink and drive, especially if you’re in the military. Driving under the influence (DUI) is not only a crime at the state level but also a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

The consequences of a DUI can be quite severe and far-reaching. A conviction, either by a court-martial or state court, has the potential to derail a servicemembers’ otherwise promising military career.

Civil Consequences of a Military DUI

Driving under the influence is illegal in all 50 states. Generally speaking, you can be charged with a DUI if you operate a motor vehicle while your blood alcohol volume (BAC) at or above the legal limit of .08 percent. It’s automatically a crime, regardless of your ability to drive.

In some states, you can also get a DUI even if your BAC is below the legal limit if the state believes that your ability to drive is significantly impaired.

Penalties for a DUI level vary from state-to-state. Commonly-imposed penalties include:

  • Jail time
  • Fines
  • Revocation or suspension of driving privileges
  • Probation
  • Community service, and
  • Mandatory installation of an Ignition Interlock Device.

Does the state always have jurisdiction over a military DUI? Not necessarily. According to Jim Yeargan, a DUI lawyer and former prosecutor in Atlanta, GA, “members of the military can be charged with a DUI if the incident occurs outside of a federal military base.

It doesn’t matter whether you are on duty or off duty. If you’re on state land, you’re subject to state criminal and civil laws.”

So, the state doesn’t have jurisdiction if you are arrested for DUI on a federal military base. While you won’t face state criminal charges, you can still lose your license or be required to comply with monitored driving programs.

Driving Drunk is a Military Crime

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is also a violation of the UCMJ. State law and military law are separate and distinct.

As a result, military servicemembers can be court-martialed for a DUI, regardless of actions taken by the state. Since the proceedings are unrelated, the result of a state case will not necessarily affect a related military case.

Simply put, you can be acquitted of DUI at the state level but still be found guilty by a military court-martial. Or vice versa.

The military charges you can face for a DUI often depends on whether the incident occurred on or off of a military base.

Drunk Driving on a Military Base

Section 911, Article 111 of the UCMJ prohibits members of the military from operating or physically controlling a vehicle, aircraft, or vessel while impaired or under the influence.

Impairment is defined as having a BAC exceeding the limit set by the state or the UCMJ, whichever is less. The state threshold for drunk driving is .08 percent. The military standard for impairment is much lower.

The BAC limit is .10 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.

When you are charged with a DUI on a military base, your commanding officer has the option of taking administrative action, recommending a court-martial, or issuing an Article 15.

Drunk Driving Off Base

You will not automatically face military sanctions or charges when you are arrested for a DUI off base. The military and state will determine which charges are most appropriate.

The state typically has jurisdiction to file criminal charges. Your commanding officer will determine if military charges or action is appropriate.

You may not be court-martialed for a violation of Article 111 of the UCMJ. However, your commanding officer may feel that charges for related military violations – including disorderly conduct or conduct unbecoming of an officer – are warranted. You may also be subject to administrative sanctions or an Article 15.

Penalties for Military DUI

Driving under the influence will have consequences. The penalties ultimately depend on what type of military charges you face.

Court Martial: You can be court-martialed for your decision to drink and drive. Penalties can include:

  • Rank reduction
  • Jail time
  • Fines
  • Forfeiture of pay, or
  • Bad conduct discharge.

Article 15: Article 15 can be used to issue non-judicial penalties for a military DUI. Article 15 penalties can include:

  • Confinement
  • Extra duty
  • Reduction of rank
  • Forfeiture of pay, or
  • Separation from the military

Administrative Action: DUIs can also be punished with administrative action. Administrative penalties can include:

  • Loss of day or weekend passes
  • Suspended or revoked driving privileges
  • Mandatory substance abuse counseling and treatment
  • Loss of military duties
  • Official reprimand, or
  • Involuntary separation.

Getting a DUI in the military can stop a career in its tracks. Many times, the penalties for DUI are a red flag for military review boards. It’s hard to get a promotion, let alone a security clearance, with a DUI on your record.

You’ve worked hard to make rank and build your military career. Don’t let a DUI destroy it. You have the right to defend yourself in state court and before a court-martial. Contact an experienced military DUI defense lawyer for help.