If you should find yourself in trouble, about to be questioned by authorities, here are some important things you should know: You have the right to remain silent.
Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning (military counsel is free of charge, whereas civilian counsel costs you out-of-pocket expenses). If you decide to answer questions without an attorney present you still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice advises servicemembers of these rights. Knowing and understanding them is a very important part of the military justice system as it pertains to equal and fair justice, and it also eases the mind of the person sitting there getting ready to be interrogated.
On-base criminal incidents occur often and the place to go for help is the Area Defense Counsel office, as the military has definite jurisdiction in these cases. But, what happens when a military member commits an offense off base? In March 1998, the supplemental agreement to the North Atlantic Treaty regarding the Status of Forces was published. Within the agreement’s several Articles is Article 19, which specifically pertains to jurisdictional issues involving crimes. Summarized, the agreement reads that the German authorities will hand over jurisdiction of all cases pertaining to off-base incidents to the U.S. military in order for them to properly prosecute and dispose of the cases. The understanding is that the military will impose just as much of a justice process, if not more, than the German government. In most situations where a crime may occur off base, the German authorities will hand over jurisdiction to the military. For example, jurisdiction is given to the military for most off-base DUI offenses. However, if there is ever a crime that the German authorities feel must be prosecuted by the Germans, they can keep jurisdiction. This only happens in unusual circumstances. We have to remember that the German authorities hold the right to maintain jurisdiction in any case it deems beneficial for their justice system.
In the rare case that the German government does want the case, what happens to the military member once they are prosecuted off base and then returned to the military? Does the military then turn around and administer some extra punitive charges upon the member? In general, trial in a state court does not prohibit prosecution by the military.
However, the Air Force policy is not to court-martial or punish under Article 15 of the UCMJ any member of the Air Force for substantially the same act or omission for which a state court tried the member, regardless of the outcome. In this case the “state” would be the country of Germany. The decision usually depends on the outcome and the underlying offense, but you could face administrative action ranging from a letter of counseling to an unfavorable information file to some type of administrative discharge.
If you have any questions regarding criminal offenses either on base or off base or have questions about your rights and want to discuss them, come to the Area Defense Counsel office.
Information you disclose to defense attorneys and defense paralegals is protected by the attorney-client privilege and is confidential. The Ramstein ADC office has recently relocated to the first floor of Bldg. 539, right across the street from the base library. Walk-in clients are accepted, or call 480-2182 for an appointment.
(Provided by the 435th Air Base Wing Legal Office)