Legal Problems

Overview

It is important to be aware that investigations of a UCMJ violation, such as those conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), the Inspector General (IG), or a civilian criminal investigative agency, are usually time-consuming and stressful for the Sailor being investigated. This is compounded by the fact that legal outcomes may be difficult to anticipate and will generate stress and anxiety. Many Sailors facing serious legal problems will worry about being disgraced and about the detrimental effects upon their family, career, and life.

Sailors who have received administrative counseling, and adverse fitness report, or face the potential loss of their naval career through involuntary separation may experience a high degree of distress and are at increased risk for suicide.

Navy Legal Offices

The Naval Legal Services Offices (NLSO) represents Sailors facing both adverse administrative and military justice actions.

Under Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice:

  • A military member has the right to remain silent; they also have the right to military counsel, provided at no cost, or to obtain civilian counsel of their own choosing, at their own expense.
  • A Sailor may request a lawyer at any time during questioning. If the Sailor decides to answer questions, he or she may stop the questioning the UCMJ who suspects a military person of a criminal offense and is interrogating the member as part of an official law enforcement investigation or disciplinary inquiry must advise the member of his or her Article 31 rights.

A Sailor or Marine may be incarcerated on-base or in a civilian jail for offenses committed off the base. Incarceration is a significant risk factor for suicide. Special vigilance should be maintained for individuals with a history of depression, alcohol, and past suicidal behaviors. Commands and leaders are in the unique position to communicate concerns to the facility's warden when notified of an active duty member's incarceration. If the communication involves the disclosure of medical information make sure the release is permissible under the Privacy Act, see SECNAVINST 5211.5D. Jails and correctional custody facilities have the capacity to carefully monitor people when self-harm is a concern. However, there is an additional concern for Sailors who are released on bond, as they are not supervised by the courts. Leaders should ensure that procedures are in place for identification and courtesy notification when Sailors are confined to local jails.

What Leaders Can Do to Support Personnel Facing Legal Problems

  • Be aware of the services that the Navy Legal Services offices have to offer.
  • Be familiar with the referral and consultation processes for mental health. See SECNAVINST 6320.24A. This instruction sets forth the legal requirements for mental health evaluations of members of the armed forces (Both voluntary and voluntary).
  • Service members undergoing investigation should be notified early in the day/week, when feasible, to allow the unit to provide support and ongoing monitoring as well as referral to supportive base agencies such as FSSC, chaplain, or mental health.
  • The "hand-off process" is a method of providing support to individuals who have received notification of a pending legal action or investigation. After being questioned by investigators, a member is immediately handed off to his/her LCPO, immediate supervisor, CO, or a unit representative designated by the command.
  • The Sailor should not be allowed to depart alone, and should be released to his LCPO, supervisor, or other designee, who will help ensure the individual receives the necessary support to safely handle his or her personal crisis.
  • This policy applies following investigative interviews of a possible UCMJ violation by the Navy or Marine Corps, or other Law Enforcement agencies. Examples include interviews conducted by the Inspector General, Equal Employment, base security or NCIS.
  • This policy applies regardless of the Sailor's reaction or emotional state. Special care should be taken if the individual appears to be emotional, distraught, or stunned during the process of the interview.
  • For agencies that do not have authority to detain individuals, and in situations involving Navy and Marine Corps civilian employees, instances may arise when an interviewee chooses not to cooperate with the hand-off. When a direct hand-off is not possible, a notification to the individual's command, supervisor or their designees must be made as soon as possible.
  • The policy applies to interviews of active duty and reserve components of the Navy and Marine Corps, and DON civilian personnel.
  • If a Sailor is incarcerated, relay any concerns you may have to the confinement facility officials regarding risk for self-harm.
  • When Sailors are released from incarceration on bond pending trial, it is important that leaders monitor distress and risk for suicide. Collaboration with mental health is recommended.

Resources for People Facing Legal Stressors

  • Navy Legal Services Office (NLSO): The NLSO represents military members facing both adverse administrative and military justice actions. Sailors have a legal right to confer with the NLSO prior to questioning by legal authorities.
  • Base Legal Office: Services provided to those entitled to legal assistance include wills, powers-of-attorney, assistance with filing income tax returns, and basic legal assistance. However, the base legal office cannot help the member with disciplinary or UCMJ charges.
  • Sailors who learn that they are under investigation should be afforded access to a mental health professional or a chaplain for support, especially during the vulnerable time when they have been initially notified of the investigation, interviewed and released.
  • The chaplain can provide spiritual support for those facing the challenges of criminal investigations.

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