Military & Court Martial Defense FAQ
Court Martial Attorney Serving Worldwide
Q: Can I afford an experienced military defense lawyer?
With so much to lose, can you afford to leave your fate to an inexperienced military defense attorney, who systematically pleads clients guilty? Too often, expert civilian defense lawyers hear potential clients claim that they "cannot afford a good lawyer." While, in some cases, this is true, most people can afford to hire a quality civilian defense attorney to fight their case. The cost is often less than the potential client paid for his car, and certainly less than the cost of a home. What these people often forget is that if they plead guilty or are found guilty, they will lose everything. Most military members have stable incomes, credit cards, TSP accounts, or family and friends from whom they can borrow money. When everything is on the line, this may be the best money you ever spend.
Q: I'm guilty. Can you help me "beat the rap"?
A: That's our job.
At The Bilecki Law Group, it does not matter to us if you are guilty, innocent, or somewhere in between. Our goal is to win cases. Some people scoff that we help military members "beat the rap" but we look at it another way. If the panel returns a not guilty verdict, either (1) the defendant was innocent and never should have been prosecuted, (2) the prosecutor did not have enough evidence against the accused and should have filed charges, or (3) the government had enough evidence but could not get a conviction.
If a "guilty" client "beats the rap," it should be the prosecutor who loses sleep at night, not the military defense lawyer. At first glance, government's cases often look overwhelming, and many defense attorneys roll over and plead their clients guilty - some even before the Article 32. At The Bilecki Law Group, we refuse to plead our clients guilty systematically. We fight back.
Q: When should I contact and hire a lawyer?
A: As soon as possible.
The earlier you contact an experienced court-martial lawyer, the better chance you have to avoid conviction and imprisonment. At The Bilecki Law Group, our toll free number is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we accept calls from anywhere in the world. We are available to handle emergency consultations during the critical first hours of a serious criminal incident. This immediate intervention from an experienced military criminal defense attorney can have a profoundly positive impact on the case.
If you are suspected of a crime, questioned by law enforcement, or presented with a search authorization, you need to contact an experienced military defense lawyer immediately.
Q: Should I hire an experienced civilian defense lawyer, or just take the free lawyer detailed to my case?
A: Hire an experienced civilian defense lawyer.
Facing courts-martial charges is likely the most significant and potentially life-changing event you will ever face. The decisions you make regarding your representation may well determine the outcome of your case. By the very nature of the military court system, many of the free military defense attorneys are young, inexperienced and systematically plead their clients guilty - helping the military conviction rate hover above 90%. In addition, the military only details you an attorney after charges have been preferred against you.
Your case often can be won or lost well before charges are leveled against you, and in some cases, we can prevent charges from being preferred. Unfortunately, in the military, the deck is stacked against you; there are experienced law enforcement agents to investigate your case, and a team of attorneys from the Staff Judge Advocate's office trying to put you in prison. Read the detailed section on "What you're up against" to see why you need an experienced, heavy-hitting attorney to ensure that you aggressively fight the charges against you.
You would not bring a knife to a gunfight or send in an amateur to fight Manny Pacquiao - and expect to win. If care about your future, retain an experienced military defense attorney with the global resources required to level the playing field.
Q: Do all civilian military lawyers have military experience?
There is no requirement for a civilian military attorney to have military experience in order to practice law in the military. There are many lawyers who advertise their services to military members that have not been in the JAG Corps or even the military. All attorneys of The Bilecki Law Group are former JAG Corps Officers with extensive experience in military defense. Mr. Bilecki served nearly eight years in the Army JAG Corps and was a Major when he left Active Duty. During those seven years, Bilecki was
- Defense counsel at Fort Hood, Texas, the busiest military criminal jurisdiction in the Army
- Special Assistant United States Attorney in Hawaii
- Senior Defense Counsel for the Pacific Rim Region.
Be wary of attorneys with no military experience as either a Senior Defense Counsel or Area Defense Counsel. Without this experience, attorneys cannot understand the military system and culture and will struggle to properly represent you.
Q: Should I hire a former prosecutor?
A: Probably not.
Some former prosecutors have significant courtroom experience and high conviction rates. Unfortunately, a prosecutor is not accustomed to having the deck stacked against him. They are more accustomed to running downhill. Prosecutor witnesses, usually law enforcement agents, are well trained and can make strong impressions on the stand. However, when that same prosecutor crosses over and defends those accused of crimes are his trial skills thoroughly tested. Now he has:
- No regiment of law enforcement agents willing to pursue every lead
- No access to all attorneys in the SJA's office
- No team of paralegals
- No pool of unlimited resources
The former prosecutor will now have to overcome the "defense credibility deficit" and perhaps most importantly, he will need to be able to relate to and understand his client. Typically, this is a difficult transition to make and one that is rarely successful. Mr. Bilecki and the attorneys of The Bilecki Law Group are not former career prosecutors, but rather career defense attorneys who are dedicated to defending military service members accused of crimes by leveling the playing field.
Q: Should I hire a retired Colonel or Navy Captain?
A: No, unless he or she has ample recent experience defending service members.
Many retired Colonels and Navy Captains open brick and mortar legal offices near a military installation and offer their services to military members to supplement their retirement income. Because of the nature of the JAG Corps, these officers typically will not have significant experience defending service members in the last decade or two of their military career.
In the JAG Corps, the vast majority of prosecutors and defense attorneys are Captains (O-3), and serve as a prosecutor or defense attorney for less than two years. As they become more senior in rank, they essentially become managers or advisors, no longer battling in courtroom trenches. Being out of the courtroom for any significant time can be disastrous; as the law is constantly changing and trial advocacy is a skill that must be kept sharp. Moreover, a retired senior officer still receives a paycheck every month from Uncle Sam and may still be a "company man." Unless they have spent their careers and significant time after retirement exclusively in the trenches defending service members at trial, proceed with caution when considering the retired Colonel or Navy Captains to defend you.
Q. If I am questioned by law enforcement, should I provide a statement?
A. Absolutely Not.
Many service members questioned by law enforcement believe they should cooperate with law enforcement, but the opposite is true. CID, OSI and NCIS agents routinely tell suspects that if they give a statement and "play ball" no charges will be filed. This is a lie, and a common technique used by deceptive law enforcement agents. MPs and Special Agents have no intention whatsoever of helping you out if you "play ball." CID or NCIS agents are not interrogating you to help you out, they are trying to close the case - and at your expense. Resist the temptation to speak with law enforcement without first having contacted an experienced military defense attorney. Instead, inform the law enforcement of the following:
- You will remain silent.
- You want to speak with an attorney immediately.
If law enforcement agents keep trying to get you to talk, say nothing. Some clients report that despite their insistence to speak with a lawyer before further questioning, CID agents pressed them to waive that right. Some agents tell suspects that a lawyer will make matters worse and that they, the agents, are the only ones who can help them. These also are lies. Refusing to speak with law enforcement cannot be used against you at trial. Do not panic and do not allow law enforcement agents to bait you into breaking your silence.
Q: If I don't provide a statement, will my command and law enforcement assume I am guilty?
A: They already think you are guilty.
Many people will believe you are guilty just because you are being investigated. Whether you are guilty or innocent, it is normal to want to explain your side of the story. This is the time for steely resolve to remain silent. Loose lips sink ships. If questioned by your command or law enforcement, immediately invoke your right to remain silent and seek private legal counsel.
Q: If I provide a statement to prosecutors, will my command go easy on me?
Anything you say can, and will, be used against you. Questioning from your command and certainly from law enforcement is designed to get you to make admissions and confess. If your command, or law enforcement, suspects you of a crime, they will do anything and everything possible to get you to admit to it. A statement from you will only help them convict you and put you in prison sooner. For more information, please read our extensive section on defending "confession" cases. Bottom line: if you are being questioned, invoke your rights and speak with an experienced military defense lawyer as soon as possible.
Q: If I already made a statement to my command or investigators, can I still fight my case?
A: Absolutely, it just makes our job harder.
There is no question that if you have already made a statement, you need an experienced attorney who understands interrogations and who has experience winning "confession" cases. If you are in this situation and have been detailed a free military defense lawyer, ask how many confession cases the attorney has won in the last 12-24 months, and do the same with any prospective civilian defense attorneys. At The Bilecki Law Group, we take on, and aggressively fight "confession" cases.
Q: If I invoke my rights and demand a lawyer, can law enforcement still talk to me?
A: No, but they may try.
If you invoke your rights and demand a lawyer, your command and law enforcement cannot legally question you regarding your case. Not surprisingly, law enforcement agents in the military often disregard the law if it means "closing a case," and they may even attempt to get other service members to question you about your case. Another deceitful method is called a "pretext phone call," where another service member, or even the alleged victim, calls you from a law enforcement office, and your conversation is recorded. Typically, law enforcement has provided a script to use, with pre-determined questions to ask which are designed to incriminate you. This is not considered hearsay, and whatever you say during that "pretext phone call" can be used as evidence against you. Be extremely cautious of your Facebook page or Twitter feed, as investigators typically monitor social networking sites while you are under investigation and awaiting trial. Anything posted to these sites can be used against you. The only person you should talk to about your case is your military defense attorney.
Q: Law enforcement never read me my rights; does that mean we won the case?
A: No, but we may be able to suppress your statement.
Before questioning or interrogating service members in custody, or before asking potentially incriminating questions, law enforcement agents and commanders are required to advise the service members of their rights. If law enforcement agents or your command improperly question a military member without first giving that person Article 31 warning, a military defense lawyer could file a motion to suppress any statement given by the suspect.
Q: If law enforcement wants to search my barracks room, car, or person, should I give them permission?
The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution and UCMJ guarantees you, as a military member and citizen of the United States, the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. If law enforcement violates your rights by conducting an illegal search and seizure, the evidence obtained in that search cannot be used against you.
If law enforcement agents ask to search you, your barracks or your car, tell them "no" and sign the refusal to grant permission section of any permissive search authorization. Look closely at anything that you sign and demand a copy of it immediately. They may search without authorization, but at least you have not given your consent to the search. If you consent to a search and law enforcement agents find evidence of a crime, it is unlikely that a military court will find that the agents violated your rights.
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