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Military and Domestic Violence

Military and Domestic Violence

Full time members of the Army, along with reservists and National Guardsman, can lose everything after being charged with domestic violence. Not only are there civilian penalties (fine, jail, criminal record); there are substantial military penalties as well, and these start as soon as the arrest is made.

As soon as command learns about a domestic violence arrest they can take action. This can include a referral to Family Advocacy, as well as cancelling upcoming training, and rendering someone non-deployable. The Family Advocacy recommendation can include dismissing an allegation, counseling, disciplinary proceedings under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or discharge. Family Advocacy doesn’t control civilian proceedings, and the South Carolina criminal law of domestic violence includes many things that the military may not consider as improper.

Domestic Violence charges can also cause other problems, regardless of the findings of Family Advocacy or any other military determination regarding conduct. If a service member is convicted of any level of domestic violence, including a misdemeanor, they will be prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition under both state and federal law.

The federal prohibition comes from the Lautenberg Amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968, and provides no exception for those serving in the military. Ultimately it can be impossible for a service member to continue to service with this restriction. Thus a conviction will lead to the almost certain discharge for anyone convicted in a civilian court.

Civilian courts in South Carolina that can enter convictions include the municipal court, magistrate court (including “domestic violence court”), and general sessions. This also applies in every case, including first-offense 3rd degree domestic violence.

So what should military members do after being arrested?

Don’t panic.

An arrest is not the same as a conviction.

If the judge has put a “no contact” bond restriction in place, fully honor it. There are steps to have it lifted or modified if necessary, but a bond violation is the quickest way to ruin any case.

Follow all counseling and program recommendations from the military. Complying can give you the best shot at keeping your military career in order, and can also help in a positive resolution in court.

There are a lot of potential resolutions to any domestic violence charge that won’t involve being convicted. We’ve helped numerous service members resolve their cases in a way that they can remain in the service. This can include having charges dismissed (dropped) before trial, reduced to a non-domestic violence offense, referred into pre-trial intervention, or fully contested in court. Every case is different, so while we can’t promise an outcome, we know that no situation is hopeless.

Definitely meet with a lawyer before court. Some people think that they should go to court and see what the judge thinks before hiring a lawyer. We’ve even talked to service members whose commanders advised them to do this. This is a mistake and can result in a summary adjudication resulting in a conviction.  

The Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC, represents active duty military personnel, reservists and guardsman charged with all levels of domestic violence. This includes soldiers assigned to Fort Jackson, McEntire Joint National Guard Base, Shaw Air Force Base, and the Joint Base Charleston. Be sure to ask about our military discount during your initial consultation with us.  


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