When former General David Petraeus was caught in an extramarital affair, questions immediately began swirling about the timeframe of his infidelity. According to Petraeus, his affair with biographer Paula Broadwell did not begin until after he had retired as an Army general.
Why is it an important distinction? While the scandal caused Petraeus to resign his post as the Central Intelligence Agency Director, it is unlikely he will be charged with a crime; on the other hand, had Petraeus still been in the military at the of the affair, he could have faced a criminal prosecution for adultery.
General Petraeus' case serves as a powerful reminder that those serving in the U.S. Armed Services are legally held to a higher standard of behavior than members of the general public. Many military crimes would not be punishable in the civilian world, and even for those military criminal offenses that do have a civilian counterpart, military sentences can be far more severe.
Discipline is the focus of the Uniform Code of Military Justice
Unlike civilians, military members are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Uniform Code is a federal law enacted by Congress. The President is authorized under the Uniform Code to establish rules and procedures for implementation.
A primary objective of the Uniform Code of Military Justice is to maintain discipline in the ranks. Adultery is one example of a crime in the Uniform Code that remains an offense for military members even though it has been decriminalized in many American jurisdictions.
The reasoning behind the military's adultery prohibition is twofold. First, it is meant to reduce distraction and the potential morale impact that such interpersonal behavior can have on soldiers who need to bond effectively to work together. Second, it is especially important for military subordinates to respect their superiors, and discouraging adultery as much as possible helps the military preserve the moral stature of its leaders. Commanders have great discretion in deciding whether to prosecute adultery, and only tend to do so when it occurs between people in the same unit, between ranks, or otherwise has the potential to detract from military order.
Adultery is far from the only way standards for military members differ from those for civilians. For example, if an enlisted soldier is issued a traffic ticket or falls behind on personal loan payments, his or her commanding officer will be informed; domestic violence charges are often career-ending for soldiers; and, drug use is typically punished far more harshly in the military world.
Service members accused of a crime need a lawyer experienced in military justice
If you're in the military and are facing discipline, you need a strong legal defense from an attorney who understands the unique attributes of military justice. Talk to a military justice attorney today to learn more about protecting your career, your freedom and your reputation in the face of a prosecution under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.