Know Your Rights

During investigation

Under Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, if you are suspected of an offense, you have:

  • the right to remain silent
  • the right to be informed of the allegations against you
  • the right to be advised that any statement you make may be used against you

This right applies when you are being questioned by your commander, First Sergeant, other senior enlisted members, supervisors, law enforcement, and prosecutors.

It is almost never a good idea to talk to someone after they have read you your Article 31 rights, at least until you have consulted with counsel. When you assert your right to remain silent, do it in a way that is very clear. A good example is to say “I am invoking my right to remain silent. I’d like to speak to a lawyer now.” You cannot be punished for asserting your right to remain silent.

When you hear the phrase “any statement you make, oral or written, may be used against you,” take it seriously. Law enforcement and prosecutors will use anything you say to argue that you are guilty of the offense. They can accuse you of lying when you are trying to assert your innocence. You don’t know what evidence they have against you (they are allowed to lie to you about it), and you might end up implicating yourself or leading them to evidence they didn’t have before. All of this is true even when you only talk to them and refuse to write it down.

If you are being questioned by investigators, often they will talk to you about harmless sounding topics in an effort to make you feel more comfortable with giving up your rights. They will ask about your favorite football team, your hometown, your family, or your hobbies. They will try to make you believe they are on your team, or that they don’t believe the allegations against you. This is all an act to try to make you talk.

Finally, be suspicious of “pretext phone calls.” Law enforcement asks an alleged victim, especially in sexual assault cases, to call you and try to get you to talk about the incident. This is another way for law enforcement to get you to incriminate yourself.

During a court-martial

Military members facing courts-martial have a number of important rights throughout the process. Some of those rights include:

The right to be tried by either a judge or a panel of members. In a Special Court-Martial, you have the right to at least three members. In a General Court-Martial, you have the right to at least 5 members. If you are enlisted, you have the right to be tried by a panel with at least one-third enlisted members. The remaining members are officers.

You have the moral and legal right to plead not guilty to the charges against you. If you plead not guilty, the government is held to the burden of proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest burden of proof known to the law.

You have the right to confront witnesses against you and cross-examine them.

You have the right to remain silent or testify on your own behalf during the findings phase of trial.

If you are found guilty, you have the right to present evidence in extenuation and mitigation. You also have the right to testify under oath, make an oral or written unsworn statement, or remain silent.