Combatting Racial Discrimination in the Military Justice System

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Q: Is there racial discrimination in the military justice system?

Being accused of a crime is a stressful experience. Your reputation, career, freedom, and even your life maybe on the line depending on the nature of the charges brought against you. The substantial differences between the civilian and military justice systems– and the severity of the potential punishments you may be facing–make hiring a court-martial defense attorney who is in an experienced civilian military defense attorney more important than ever.

As in civilian court, a military member charged with a crime has the right to hire an experienced civilian military defense attorney instead of settling for an often- inexperienced and overworked court-appointed attorney from the trial defense service. With so much on the line, wouldn’t you want an attorney with the experience, time, and resources to focus on and aggressively defend the charges against you? Wouldn’t you also want a court-martial defense or court-martial appeal attorney who is free of being unduly influenced by internal military politics or pressures?

With 78% of military officers being white as compared to 8% being black (in 2016), some may have wondered whether there is discrimination and or corruption within the military justice system. Now we know.

An eye-opening new study by an advocacy group devoted to military justice reform has discovered that “depending on the branch and kind of punishment administered, black troops are 29% to 161% more likely to be court-martialed or otherwise punished by their commanders and white troops”.  There were also “hints” of punishment disparities between other non-white racial/ethnic groups when compared to white groups.  

The highest and lowest percentage numbers cited above are both attributed to the Marines. The study found that black Marines were “29% more likely to be found guilty in a non-judicial proceeding than white Marines”, but they were also “161% more likely to be found guilty at a court-martial hearing.” Can we let that sink in a moment? One hundred and sixty one percent more likely to be found guilty at a court martial.

A wide range of similar disparities between blacks and whites was found in each branch. In comparison to white soldiers of the same branch, the survey reported the following findings:

*It should be noted that the Navy only produced figures for 2014–2015 where the other branches provided statistics from 2006 -2015.

With apparent racial and ethnic disparities throughout the military justice system, it’s more important than ever for military members—especially non-whites—who are facing court-martial or non-judicial proceedings to retain an experienced civilian military defense attorney to mount an aggressive defense.

If you are, or believe you might be, facing a military court-martial, the attorneys at Elkus, Sisson, and Rosenstein PC have the military law experience you need to put on the strongest legal defense. From our offices in Denver and Colorado Springs, we represent military members of all ranks in all branches wherever you are stationed in the world. Call us for a free consultation at 719-247-3111 today.

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