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Desertion or AWOL can lead to court-martial

Next to hearing that your son or daughter is deploying to a military zone, the most frightening term you may hear as a California military parent is "court-martial." Often a court-martial is related to the commission of a crime by a service member. However, desertion or absence without leave is a common violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and can have serious ramifications for your son or daughter.

Like any legal matter, the severity of the consequences often depends on the circumstances of the offense. In other words, your son or daughter's commanding officer will investigate the case before deciding how to proceed. For the protection of your child's rights, you may want to enlist the services of an attorney who is familiar with UCMJ procedures.

What are the possible consequences?

The factors a commanding officer considers when deciding how to handle your son or daughter's case include the length of time your child was away from duties without permission and the reasons why he or she was absent. A reasonable explanation, such as a family emergency, illness or financial troubles, may result in lesser punishment. However, without such understandable circumstances motivating the absence, the commanding officer may convene a court-martial, which may result in any of these or other actions:

  • Punishment specified by Article 15, which may include, reprimand, pay reduction, loss of grade or other penalties
  • Fines
  • Confinement in military jail
  • Administrative discharge
  • Other-than-honorable or bad conduct discharge

Of course, your son or daughter's commanding officer will consider the length of the absence as well as your child's previous conduct in the military. A history of disciplinary trouble or past absences may make it more likely the commander will take a more severe approach.

What can I do to protect my child?

Any consequences of an AWOL or desertion charge can be damaging to your son or daughter's future. A negative discharge, as well as a court-martial, can make it difficult for your child to obtain benefits or find work. It is crucial that your son or daughter understands that being a service member does not remove his or her rights as a citizen. That includes the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney.

By reaching out to a legal advocate with experience in military law, you can improve your son or daughter's chances of obtaining the most positive outcome possible, whether he or she is in the early stages of investigation for an unauthorized absence or is preparing to face a court-martial.

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