McChord workshop examines military justice

By David Poe/JBLM PAO on December 9, 2011

The Uniformed Code of Military Justice is more than 14,000 words long ... in sub chapter 1 (there are 12 in all.) This newspaper article is roughly one-twentieth of that first chapter. When it comes to the legal rights of all involved in the system, knowing military rights and responsibilities, both as individuals and as leaders, regardless of the number of pages, may be a must for justice to prevail. Because of this ideal, 62nd Airlift Wing's Office of the Staff Judge Advocate held a military justice workshop at their wing headquarters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Nov. 29.

The workshop was given to McChord Field commanders, first sergeants and other supervisors to better understand their roles and responsibilities in legal issues, focused on Article 15 proceedings and the court martial process under the UCMJ.

"There are issues that fall at the command's feet, such as putting members on administrative hold, what can cause delays... things like that," Capt. Michael Berens, 62nd AW deputy SJA, said. "It was to help commanders and leaders better understand the administration of military justice."

In depth, the morning Article 15 portion covered ideal timelines, as well as common offense scenarios and processing tips. In the late morning, they opened up a session on courts martial, and everything a leader should know during this type of proceeding. Instructors from 62nd AW/SJA went deep on courts-martial, explaining areas such as the different types of investigations which could occur, pre-trial confinement, and Article 31 Miranda rights of the accused, among other areas.

The second half of the day provided time for information on other adverse actions such as letters of reprimand and other administrative matters, and a round table discussion where students could turn questions back to the lawyers and share past experiences.

Berens said while the UCMJ is a universal document, invites to the workshop at the joint base were only extended to Air Force leadership teams because of subtle service differences in the military justice process.

"Some of the nuances of how we try the cases, based off of Air Force instruction, rather than Army regulation, come into play."

Workshop students also received video instruction about area defense counsels who hypothetically represented accused Airmen in the types of disciplinary proceedings they covered during the day's workshop. Berens, who's spent time as a defense lawyer, said defense counsels independence from installation legal offices is important for showing transparency.

"Having worked in the defense world, and now back with government prosecution, the bedrock of the military justice system is that it's going to be a fair shake for the accused, where honoring all of their rights will be adhered to," Berens said. "(Defense lawyers) have a separate chain of command than the lawyers in the legal office have."

Berens said that though some of the details of what was taught at the workshop may have been familiar to the students based off of their past experiences, as some were new commanders they now have a direct role in legal actions, so the knowledge base needed to expand.

"Largely, any new commander is going to have had a fair amount of exposure to the different military justice responsibilities," he said, "however until they're actually a commander, or a first sergeant responsible for advising that commander, where they can initiate proceedings, they need to know whether to move forward on something or not. We want to make sure they understand their responsibilities and the process. That does justice for both the command and the individual military member."

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