How Court Martial Differs from Civilian Trial
Interviewer: How was practicing law in the military different from civilian practice?
Tipon: Well, practicing law in the military is significantly different from practicing law in civilian court. While when you get there, in between the lines, in court there are a lot of similarities but as you come to find out, the procedure is significantly different in the military.
The most important thing that I think is different between the military and civilian practice is: understanding the unique circumstances that a military service member faces when charged with both crimes in the military and out of the military. Now, as a former Marine judge advocate having spent 10 years in the Marine Corps, I have the benefit of understanding that unique perspective that faces an active duty service member.
Interviewer: Noel, what really motivates you to represent service members who are maybe falsely accused?
Tipon: You know, when I was in the Marine Corps, it wasn’t a client of mine but I saw a service member get wrongly convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, and I made a promise to myself that I would do whatever possible to ensure that a client of mine would never ever be convicted of something that he didn’t do.
And so, when you asked me what motivates me and what I’m passionate about, making sure that the service member that I represent never gets convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.
The Invisible War
Interviewer: Noel, it seems that there’s a war even going on in the military, and that’s this topic of sexual assault. Why is it dominating the scene so much?
Tipon: You wouldn’t believe the amount of propaganda that is out there. Things like the Invisible War that has infected the way that the military thinks about sexual assault. And it hasn’t just affected the military, it’s affected Congress. It has infected the government. You’ve heard comments from Pres. Obama and Vice-Pres. Biden talking about what they want to see happen with military service members not convicted with sex assault but accused of sex assault. They want them dishonorable discharged. Now, that has a significant effect on the leaders of the United States military.
And when that comes forward, it changes how the people think about the prosecution of sexual assault in the military. You’ve seen it in the media today, and what you need is you need a team of lawyers who have seen that progression—from before there was a war on sex assault to today.
You need to have a team on your side that understands how to change the mindset of those who are going to judge you and judge whether or not you’re guilty, or innocent because when you rely on someone who doesn’t have the experience and you rely on somebody who is beholding to the people in the military, you get a deficient military defense.
So, what you need to think about, what you need to figure out is whether or not you’re going to rely on what’s given to you, or you’re going to go out there and you’re going to hire the best defense team possible—somebody who’s willing to fight the system; someone who knows it from the inside-out, and someone who isn’t willing to just take what the military is going to give them but is willing to take the fight to the prosecution. Because that’s what it takes—the deck is stacked against you, and you just can’t “sit back and relax.”
The Search for the Truth
Interviewer: Can a person who’s being investigated for a crime really trust law enforcement to search for the truth?
Tipon: Look, this isn’t NCIS starring Mark Harmon. This isn’t CSI Miami. That’s all television. When law enforcement is investigating you and suspecting you of a crime, they’re out there to make a case for the prosecution. They don’t suspect you of being innocent. They suspect you of being guilty. And everything that they do, every step of the way is to build a case for the people they work for: the United States military. And what they’re trying to do is convict you and put you in jail.
So, is law enforcement who works for the military on your side? Are they really looking out for your best interest? Are they looking out for the truth? We like to hope so, but the reality of it is is that they’re out there to get promoted. They’re out there to make a case so that you get convicted and you go to jail.
Interviewer: What is a service member really up against in a Military Court Martial prosecution?
Tipon: In a military prosecution, military service members are up against the best trial lawyers that the Army, the Marine Corps, and the AirForce, and the Navy are willing to put up against you.
When they make a decision to charge you with a crime, they want to make sure that you’re convicted. So, the military is going to put together a team of the best prosecutors. They’re going to put together a team that consists of OSI, NCIS, and CID agents to gather evidence against you.
They’re going to put together a team that is going to ensure that you go to jail for the crime that you are suspected of. Make no mistake about it, they don’t suspect you of being innocent—they suspect you of being guilty, and the military is trying to make sure that they haven’t made a bad prosecution.