Knowledge is power: know who to call

by Tech. Sgt. Roman Rocha
Ramstein Area Defense Counsel

You have just been notified by your first sergeant that both he and your commander suspect you have committed an offense and an investigation has commenced to determine facts about the stated allegations.

You were also told to collect your thoughts and tomorrow you will come in to complete a statement at his office. Eventually you leave, and begin to make your way back to your office, but everything just doesn’t make sense. You just can’t recall what it is that you have done wrong. At one point you contemplate about all of the times your supervisor and commander have informed you to go and talk to your chain of command when you need assistance. But is that the right move for what you are dealing with currently? Or, perhaps you feel that you need to go to the base legal office to get help and get a lawyer. But is that even the right place to go when you have been informed that you have allegedly committed a crime?

First, as a military member, remember your Article 31 rights ― they exist to protect you if you choose to invoke them. They provide that no person suspected of a criminal offense can be compelled to respond to any questions if the answers may indicate guilt.

You also have the right to remain silent and may choose to contact an Area Defense Counsel to assist you. Furthermore, every service member who is interrogated as a suspect of an alleged offense by either the office of special investigations, security forces investigators, police, Polizei, the commander, first sergeant, your supervisor or any other person working for the military, has the legal right to decline to respond to questions and all questions must cease once invoked. Any information you provide to the individuals mentioned above can be used as further evidence against you.

Also, if you admit to wrongdoing, that alone can be used to find you guilty of an offense within the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Secondly, what is the difference between the ADC and the base legal office? That is a question that most clients or Airmen have when either the ADC or I speak to them.

First, the ADC is not obligated to report to anyone within your chain of command. This ensures that our responsibility is to you ― our client. In other words, the ADC office has no obligation to assist the command ― our responsibility is to ensure your rights are protected. You have confidentiality with the ADC, the defense paralegal and other members of the defense team, which means anything you say to us will not and cannot be revealed to anyone.

You do not have complete confidentiality with anyone else on base aside from us and the base chaplain’s office.

ADCs are licensed attorneys and all practice law in at least one of the 50 states. They will help with the defense of your case, whether it is a court-martial, nonjudicial punishment, administrative separation and demotion, or any other adverse action for which counsel for a military member is required or authorized.

The base legal office assists your chain of command’s interests in good order and discipline. They also assist you with civilian matters such as wills, landlord issues and similar concerns. They do not assist you if you are suspected of a committing a criminal offense.

So, now that you are fully aware of whom you can contact to support you and which office is the best to assist you on a case in which you allegedly committed a criminal offense, know your Article 31 rights. You never know when you will need to make a decision to invoke them.

Call the Area Defense Counsel at 480-2182 with any questions about rights under the UCMJ you may have or visit their website by entering the Air Force Portal’s Ramstein site, click on “Base & Tenants Units,” and then “AFLOA/ADC.”