FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS - UCMJ AND COURT MARTIAL LAWYERS

1. Is a court martial trial a search for the truth?

No. It’s more a contest to see who has the best lawyer—you or the government.

Make no mistake, a court martial is a contest where both sides are looking to win. For military prosecutors, that means convicting you and beefing up their stats for certain members of congress. For us, it means having you walk out of court a free person with a not guilty verdict.

Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, inexperienced defense attorneys can back their clients into a conviction when the evidence clearly supported an acquittal. Having good facts in a case isn’t enough—your court martial lawyer needs to have what it takes to present those facts in a way that causes the jury to vote NOT GUILTY.

That’s why so many military service members go to extreme lengths to hire Noel Tipon to defend them in court. They know we won’t get outlawyered and they know there’s only one shot at a not guilty verdict.

2. Why is hiring an experienced civilian defense attorney advantageous in a military case?

Experienced civilian military defense attorneys can work both inside and outside the military establishment and aren’t afraid to “rock the boat.”

Successful court martial lawyers become successful because they ruthlessly protect their clients’ rights and interests. We’ve seen defense attorneys feel bad about defending an accused military service member or worry more about their own careers. To us, this is insane and those attorneys should be looking for different work.

Not only should every accused military service member get a fair trial, but they should get a defense team that is 100% committed to getting a not guilty verdict. Yet some active duty attorneys are more focused on not “rocking the boat” or getting promoted than protecting their clients from a conviction.

With Noel Tipon, you get a defense team that has a proven track record of success while on active duty and as civilians. We’re don’t have divided loyalties—our devotion rests squarely with investigating, preparing, and defending your case at a world-class level.

3. What makes Noel Tipon different from other military defense
lawyers?

Our relentless dedication to winning.

Properly preparing a case for court martial takes absolute dedication and focus. Hours, weeks, and months of investigation and preparation come down to one moment: TRIAL EXECUTION. Some are good at it, some aren’t.

With our performance record, it should come as no surprise that while on active duty in the Marine Corps both Noel Tipon served as the Senior Defense Counsel at Marine Corps Base Hawaii and were both distinguished Marine Corps Appellate Defense Counsel. While we’re proud of these accomplishments, there importance to an accused service member is found in the principle that PAST PERFORMANCE IS THE BEST PREDICTOR OF FUTURE PERFORMANCE.

As the saying goes, everyone wants to be like a lion until it’s time to do what lions do. The same goes for defense attorneys. Many like the idea of being world-class courtroom litigators but just don’t have what it takes. They lack the energy, aggressiveness, legal experience, and dedication that is needed. They are almost always nice people, but nice generally gets you convicted in this business, not acquitted.

If you’re serious about fighting back against the UCMJ accusations you’re facing, contact Noel Tipon today to learn how we would investigate, prepare, and defend your case at a world-class level.

4. If I’m actually guilty, would you still help me beat the charges?

Yes. It’s what we do.

Great lawyers are viewed as great because they won cases most thought impossible to win. Heard of the O.J. Simpson case? Many people still wonder how he was found not guilty of double murder. The answer is that he had a team of great lawyers. That’s why we’re not in the habit of pleading our clients guilty—a UCMJ case is rarely hopeless in the hands of the right military defense attorney.

Yes, sometimes there are guilty plea deals that an accused should take, but inexperienced defense counsel often see a terrible deal as a good one and rush to plead their client guilty. That’s not us. We have a reputation for fighting and winning the hard cases and only accepting a deal if it’s TRULY in the best interests of our military client. And it’s not magic. Our victories come from hard work and preparation, exceptional legal research and writing skills, and years of experience battling prosecutors, convening authorities, and military judges.

5. Are the “free” active duty defense counsel really that inexperienced and unproven?

In most cases, yes.

If you needed a life-saving surgery, who would you want operating, the surgeon with 2 to 6 years of experience, or the surgeon with 20 years of experience or more? You go with the 20+ years of experience guy—the same goes for a military defense attorney. Most active duty JAGs, when asked about their experience, give the number of years they’ve been IN THE MILITARY, not the number of years they’ve been defense counsel, which is much lower. A JAG that has been in the military for 6 to 8 years probably has, at most, about 2 to 3 years of experience actually defending service members because they frequently rotate to new billets in order to get promoted.

The result is that many of the free active duty defense attorneys rush to plead their clients guilty for a so-called “good deal” because they don’t have the experience to see that a fight is in order. This is one of the reasons that the military conviction rate for all services is around 90%.

Whether you’re picking a surgeon or a court martial lawyer, you owe it to yourself to go with someone that is experienced and has a record of success.

6. Can I afford an experienced civilian court martial lawyer like Noel Tipon?

Yes.

The real question is whether you can afford NOT to hire an experienced military defense attorney. The cost of a court martial conviction or an adverse administrative matter is almost always life altering and long lasting. Depending on your case, you may face imprisonment for years or decades, dishonorable discharge, sex offender registration, loss of retirement and other benefits, civilian unemployment, and so on. Only you can decide what it’s worth to get the best shot at avoiding these terrible circumstances.

And make no mistake, you get what you pay for. Some military members worry that they’ll hire a high-powered court martial lawyer and still lose, so they figure they’ll go with a bargain attorney. The problem with this thinking is that if you lose with the lesser attorney, you’ll be wondering, for the rest of your life, whether the top-shelf military defense attorney could have saved you from the life you know find yourself living.

Some accused will even go with the free active duty lawyer that the GOVERNMENT SUPPLIES. This can be disastrous. Consider this: some active duty defense counsel don’t actually want to defend accused service members—they were involuntarily assigned the billet when their heart was instead set on being a Prosecutor, SJA, Legal Assistance Attorney, Civil Law Attorney, Contracts Attorney, Operational Law Attorney, Victim’s Legal Counsel, and so on. Of course, you’ll never know this because they aren’t going to admit it.

Others want to be defense counsel, but they’re inexperienced. In fact, most litigators join the military because they are told it’s a great opportunity to get experience—by practicing with your life and career. As the saying goes, if you’re not paying for the product, YOU ARE THE PRODUCT. And once a military member is caught up in the UCMJ system, you are viewed as a defective product to be removed from the shelf. So they let their new defense attorneys take a shot against hand-picked military prosecutors hellbent on convicting you.

In the end, hiring the best court martial lawyer for your case is a lot like most other important life decisions—it’s an investment in yourself where low-tier just won’t cut it.

7. When’s the best time to hire a military court martial lawyer?

The sooner the better.

The earlier you contact an experienced court martial lawyer the better your chances are for avoiding a conviction or other adverse action. The longer you go it alone, the more opportunity the government has to build a case against you—and that’s time you can never get back. That’s why at Noel Tipon we have staff ready for your call 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world.

If you’re suspected of a UCMJ crime, questioned by military law enforcement, presented with a military search authorization, or receive UCMJ charges, you need to treat the situation like an EMERGENCY. That’s how we treat it and that’s why we’re here for you 24/7.

8. Do all civilian military lawyers have military experience?

No.

A civilian attorney isn’t required to have military experience to practice in military courts. All Noel Tipon defense attorneys have extensive experience in military criminal defense. Mr. Tipon is a former Marine who began private practice after 10 years of active duty. While on active duty he was the Senior Defense Counsel at Marine Corps Base Hawaii and was an appellate defense counsel in Washington, DC.

Mr. Tipon has devoted his life to defending military service members against court martial charges and all adverse UCMJ matters. More importantly, they know the military UCMJ system inside and out.

9. How do I spot an inexperienced military attorney?

There are a number of ways.

Detecting an inexperienced court martial lawyer really isn’t that difficult.
If they can’t give you specific examples of military cases they have worked on over at least a 10 year period, you probably want someone more experienced.

If you can’t verify their claimed successes by providing you audio of their performances in court, written court opinions that reference them by name, and positive testimonials from former clients, you probably want a different defense attorney to represent you.

If they talk about how long they were active duty military rather than the number and types of cases they’ve defended, that’s a red flag. Inexperienced military defense lawyers often highlight how long they were on active duty because they only served as defense counsel or litigators for a small portion of that time—usually less than 5 years. Considering what’s at stake, a more experienced defense attorney is needed.

After talking to a potential defense lawyer for your case, are you truly convinced that they can aggressively defend you in the way that you and your family deserve? If they can’t convince you, how can they convince a jury to vote not guilty?

You owe it to yourself to get the best military court martial lawyer you can find. Don’t get bullied into going with an inexperienced or bargain defense attorney. You’re almost certain to regret it if you do.

10. Should I hire a retired Colonel, Navy Captain or Military Judge?

Probably not, unless they have a lot of recent experience and success as a military defense attorney.

A lot of retired Colonels, Navy Captains, and former military judges start small part-time law firms to complement their retirement pay, or simply join another firm in order to stay busy. Some may never have been a defense counsel before at all, or only served as one long ago. Worse yet, some military judges are reversed on appeal by appellate courts because they got the law wrong, which is probably not the type of lawyer you want defending you.

Because of how the military JAG Corps’ are organized, most active duty attorneys only get a few years of litigation experience before they are shuffled off to billets that will increase their chances for promotion. And once promoted, they are often then made military judges despite their apparent inexperience. Their absence from the courtroom can be incredibly obvious, as trial litigation is a perishable skill and military law is constantly changing. Unless they have spent a significant part of their careers and time after retirement defending military service members at trial, be wary of putting your career in the hands of a retired military judge or senior military service member with little defense or litigation experience.

11. Is it hopeless if I’m accused of sexual assault and they have my DNA?

It’s almost never hopeless with the right military defense attorney.

Just because your DNA was found doesn’t mean you can’t avoid a rape or sexual assault conviction. DNA experts that Noel Tipon regularly works with can explain to a jury how your DNA can actually end up in a state that you’ve never been to. They can also undermine testimony of government DNA experts and show that witnesses are lying. And if we go with a “consent” defense strategy, the presence of your DNA would be expected since the alleged victim consented.

Although military prosecutor’s may think that DNA evidence is a smoking gun, our experience informs us that we can often turn the tables and use that same DNA evidence to secure a not guilty verdict. Our blueprint for investigating, preparing, and defending against “DNA” sexual assault cases has a track record of success.

12. Is having sex after drinking alcohol a crime in the military?

No, but it can be very dangerous for an innocent military member.

Consensual “drunk sex” isn’t a UCMJ crime. Sex without consent is. Unfortunately, consensual drunk sex can suddenly shift to sex without consent in the mind of one of the participants. Often times this is due to regret, fear of a boyfriend finding out, some sense of shame, or just plain spite. And when it happens, it becomes the all too horrible “he-said-she-said case.” These types of cases are rampant in the military today, especially with Congress continually calling for more sexual assault prosecutions and convictions.

If you’re being investigated for or charged with sexual assault based on a sexual encounter involving alcohol consumption, don’t be fooled into thinking your case is hopeless. Retain the best team of court martial lawyers you can find.

13. If questioned by military law enforcement, should I provide a
statement?

No.

You should immediately indicate that you don’t want to make a statement and that you want to speak to a lawyer. You should then immediately go and speak to a seasoned court martial lawyer with 10 or more years of experience. You MUST resist the temptation to tell your side of the story to military law enforcement. Instead, be like a broken record—any question you are asked should be met with: I don’t want to make a statement and I want to speak to a lawyer.

Don’t think for one second that NCIS, CID, or OSI agents are looking to help you. They almost always want to question you because they think you’re guilty. They can legally lie to you and try and trick you into giving a confession—even if you’re innocent. We have counseled many military service members that, had they simply kept their mouths shut, would likely never have been prosecuted.

If law enforcement agents keep trying to get you to talk, keep being a broken record. Don’t let them trick you into making a statement—and then go and see an experienced court martial lawyer about your case.

14. If I refuse to make a statement, won’t my command and military law enforcement assume I am guilty?

They already think you’re guilty.

The reason that military law enforcement wants to interrogate you is because they think you’re guilty. If you think otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. And don’t think you can sweet talk them into believing you’re innocent. Every word you say can and will be used AGAINST YOU. Your words will be twisted into something you didn’t mean and then used as evidence for your own conviction. Be smart and take this free advice: don’t make a statement and see an experienced court martial attorney that can protect your rights.

15. I already confessed, can I still fight my case?

Absolutely, it’s just more challenging.

In confession cases, one defense strategy is often to show that military law enforcement coerced a false confession out of a service member and therefore the confession should be inadmissible in court. Other times, the agents themselves do so much talking during the interrogation that they actually mess up a confession and it becomes unusable. Either way, you will want a court martial lawyer that knows how to properly attack a confession case and knows a false confession expert that can review your case and testify on your behalf.

If you’ve confessed, rushing to plead guilty will likely be your second big mistake. Noel Tipon will fight for you if you’ve confessed and you’re not ready to roll over and just plead guilty for government prosecutors.

16. Law enforcement didn’t read me my rights, does that mean I’m in the
clear?

Not necessarily.

Before questioning or interrogating service members in custody, or before asking potentially incriminating questions of military suspects, military law enforcement agents are required to advise military members of their right to remain silent and right to speak to a lawyer. If this isn’t done, a good court martial lawyer may be able to suppress any incriminating statement or confession that the service member made.

If suppressed, military prosecutors would be unable to use the statements or confession to prove a service member’s guilt. Suppression is often a service member’s best hope when they confessed or made incriminating statements.

17. Should I allow military law enforcement to search my phone, barracks room, or car?

No.

If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’re simply allowing the government to unnecessarily invade your privacy and rummage through your personal matters. On the other hand, if you consent to a search and incriminating evidence is found, your consent all but destroys any chance of keeping the evidence from being used against you.

You should tell military law enforcement that you don’t consent to a search, you don’t want to make a statement, and you want to see a lawyer. If CID, NCIS, or OSI get a search authorization after you have refused to consent to a search, fair enough. But at least you still have the opportunity to challenge the legality of the search under the 4th Amendment and the UCMJ prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

18. How long does a military investigation usually take to complete?

It really depends.

It’s impossible to say how long the investigation of your case will last. It could be a few short months, or it could be well over a year. The most important thing to understand though is, regardless of how long a military investigation lasts, you need a court martial lawyer doing an independent investigation to prove your innocence. Government investigators are doing everything in their power to collect evidence that proves your guilt, not your innocence. If you don’t have your own experienced military defense attorney working on your behalf to prove you’re not guilty, chances are that crucial evidence will be lost, destroyed, or overlooked. If you value your military career and your freedom, you can’t afford to just sit back and wait.

19. Can I outsmart military law enforcement like CID, NCIS, and OSI?

It’s highly unlikely, and trying to is simply a bad move.

Military law enforcement agents make a lot of mistakes, but they aren’t fools. In fact, they are generally very good at obtaining incriminating admissions from service members without them even knowing it. They will lull you into a sense of comfort, lie to you, and slowly extract answers from you that make you appear guilty. Remember, they already think you’re guilty, so if you believe you can convince them that you’re not, you don’t understand the game that’s being played. DON’T TALK TO THEM!

The best bet to beat military law enforcement investigators is to arm yourself with an experienced defense team that is better than they are. Contact the court martial lawyers at Tipon & Liebenguth as soon as you realize you’re under investigation.

20. Is there any UCMJ matter that Noel Tipon doesn’t handle?

No.

Our law firm handles every type of UCMJ matter imaginable. If the UCMJ issue you’re being confronted with can have or is having a negative impact on your military career or life, Noel Tipon can help.