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Are You Feeling Lucky? Why Should You Hire a Civilian Counsel in the Military?

By, Toni Quinn O’Neill, top court-martial defense attorney

Photograph of Toni Quinn O'Neill, top court-martial defense attorney.

When you are under suspicion, investigation or facing charges as a military member, you need to ensure that you are doing everything you can to save your career, your freedom, your reputation, and your future.  Are you doing that by trusting whichever military defense counsel is randomly assigned to your case?

Maybe you get lucky, maybe you happen to be stationed at a base where the best base level defense counsel is stationed, and maybe that counsel is available to try your case.   Hopefully they won’t have a heavy workload that will prohibit them from focusing on your case right now, when you need them most.  Maybe being the best base level defense counsel means that they have the experience and talent to defend you.  Are you feeling lucky enough to make that bet?

I get it, the military is giving you a free lawyer so why should you pay for one?  Is it really worth it?  Maybe you should trust the military defense attorney and save the money.  I’m a gambling woman, I understand the instinct, roll the dice, hope for the best.  Except, this is it for you, no second chances here, you can’t pull out another dollar bill and roll the dice one more time if you lose.  If you lose a gamble at a court-martial you could go to jail, possibly for years, and it could be next to impossible to get your life back on track after your federal conviction.

Hiring an experienced military defense attorney can be expensive, but put it into perspective:  If you are an E-5 with 8 years of time in service and you end up going to jail for 10 months you won’t receive a paycheck during that time, that will cost you at least $40,000 in pay and allowances alone, not to mention the life-long costs of a federal conviction on your record, and jail time.  Hiring an attorney doesn’t seem so expensive now, does it?  The same goes for non-judicial punishment under Article 15. If you are reduced in rank or required to forfeit your pay that will have a long-lasting effect that makes hiring an aggressive, experienced civilian military defense counsel worth it.

When I was a JAG in the Air Force, I was a base level counsel assigned to servicemembers, and later after gaining years of experience, I supervised base level counsels. I was arguably the best defense counsel in the Air Force.  The clients who walked in my door or were assigned to me were lucky, because they got an effective and experienced attorney.  But they represent less than a quarter of one percent of military members charged at any given time.  Most servicemembers won’t get that lucky. They might get a good military defense counsel, they might get an average one or worse. Even if they are lucky enough to get a great one, will that military defense counsel have my decade of experience, my demonstrated record of success in and out of the court, and my extensive background in advising senior leaders and commanders? Why not stack the deck? You don’t have to choose. Do you like your detailed military counsel? You can still keep them on your team, two for the price of one.

When you meet with your military lawyer, be sure to ask them:

  1. How many cases have you tried?
  2. How many of those were fully litigated (not guilty pleas)?
  3. How many of those cases were like mine?
  4. How many did you win?
  5. How often have you been able to negotiate with senior JAGs and commanders to keep a case out of the courtroom entirely?
  6. How many clients do you have right now?
  7. Do you have all the time you need to prepare my defense?
  8. What is your plan for my case?
  9. What can I do to help prepare for my case?

Think about the answers you get.  Maybe you like them, maybe you don’t, maybe you are unsure.  Call me for a free consultation and ask me the same questions.  If you like my answers, then let’s talk more about your situation and how I can help. No outcome can ever be guaranteed, and don’t trust any lawyer that is crazy enough to make a guarantee about the outcome of your case.  I CAN promise you that I will tell you in our first consultation whether I am the best attorney for you and why.  If I am, and you hire me, I promise I will fight for you, and will do everything I can for your case. Don’t gamble away your future on the wrong attorney.

Call (301) 952-9000 for a free consultation today.