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Advice to Family Members When Their Loved One is Accused

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As military defense attorneys, it is common for our team to communicate with family members of soldiers, marines, airmen, sailors, guardsman, and cadets who are accused of a crime or other misconduct.  This is sometimes due to the relatively young age of our clients, but more often it occurs because parents and spouses of military service members are incredibly loyal and supportive of their loved ones.  It’s been a privilege to witness first-hand the strength of these relationships in action over the years.

Because of the close relationships noted above, we’re often asked to answer questions or address concerns from family while we work on behalf of a service member.  Many of the specific answers can be found in our podcast recordings as well as the library of video clips we have published to our YouTube page.  Please click here to visit our videos.

Below is more general advice that tends to apply to all instances where a member of the Armed Forces is accused of misconduct.  We hope you find it helpful.

  • Support your loved one. Whether it is a minor offense or major allegation of misconduct, facing discipline by the military is a very stressful situation.  Your family member needs to know that you are behind them.
  • Don’t assume your family member is guilty of the misconduct. It is very easy to assume that military command, authorities, or investigators would not bring charges without merit, but we see this happen every day.  False accusations, mistakes in prosecution, and overcharging are extremely common in the military.
  • Be patient. Fighting the charges against your loved one and restoring his/her good name often takes time… more time than anyone would prefer.  It’s important to understand that winning your loved one’s case may require a thorough investigation, numerous motions to be filed with the court, ongoing negotiation with prosecutors, and a trial and appeal.  As difficult as it is to wait, it is worth it when the issue is finally resolved.
  • Recognize the high stakes. While all legal matters are serious, those involving military personnel come with additional implications that don’t exist in civilian cases.  For example, an ROTC cadet may be forced to payback thousands of dollars if disenrolled, or an enlisted soldier may have a dishonorable discharge that forever hinders his career opportunities.
  • Hire an experienced attorney. In fact, hire the best military lawyer you can find and afford.  The military justice system is complex and very different than the civilian system.  The consequences of a bad outcome have serious and long-term impacts on service members and their families.  You want to eliminate as much potential for a negative outcome as possible, and the best way to do so is to have the right legal counsel working on your family member’s behalf.
  • Know better days are ahead. We’ve sat with many families after their loved one has been exonerated who initially felt that difficult times would last forever.  The reality is that the challenges facing your family today will pass, and there is a good chance that things will return to normal.

Last, please remember that as you work through the current legal issues facing your family member, it’s okay to feel stressed, upset, angry, helpless, and generally unsettled.  In addition to giving your loved one the slack they need, don’t be too hard on yourself.  Life does little prepare people in your position for what’s ahead.  But recognize that you are taking the right steps to put this matter behind your loved one and yourself, whether that means they continue to serve in the Armed Forces or move-on to other opportunities in the future.

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