Risk of alcohol consumption and potential DUI on your military career
Service Members can find their careers at risk when alcohol or DUI causes negative consequences in a person’s life. Understanding this risk requires greater analysis than just making assumptions about how many drinks you think you can have before you are technically over the legal driving limit.
What is an alcohol related incident?The military in general considers any serious alcohol related incident worthy of review and potential action under the UCMJ. Commanders can decide what is deemed an “incident of alcohol related misconduct”. Meeting the legal limit when driving is only one standard. Being stopped for suspicion of DUI, but blowing under the legal limit may mean technically you cannot be charged with DUI, but commanders can consider the incident as misconduct. Alcohol-related incidents not involving a vehicle can be just as serious especially if it involves someone getting injured or if one represents the military and the command in a poor light. Such if a service member is injured or injures another while drunk, creates a disturbance, or otherwise appears publicly intoxicated. If two incidents happen within a 12-month period, Army Regulation 600-85 requires commanders to initiate separation.
Career consequences for a DUI convictionConsequences for alcohol related incidents is command dependent. For instance, the Eighth Army-Korea Policy Letter #10 specifically directs all major subordinate commands to include ”Limited Use” in their command policy that deals with substance abuse programs. A “Limited Use” policy encourages Soldiers to participate in voluntary substance abuse treatment with “a strong goal of rehabilitation, retention or alternative way to discharge.” In particular this policy mandates that if a Soldier “properly self-refers to ASAP directly or through Command channels”, a commander can still separate the service member, but must give an Honorable Discharge.
In a worst case scenario, if a service member blows higher than the legal limit at a traffic stop he or she could face court martial. The maximum punishment a service member could receive at a court-martial for drunken driving is dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 18 months.
If a service member only faces non-judicial punishment, otherwise known as Captain’s Mast or Article 15, the maximum punishment could include:
• E-4 and below: loss of all rank to E-1, loss of half of one month's pay for two months, and up to 60 days of extra duties and restriction to the garrison.
• E-5/E-6: loss of one rank, loss of half of one month's pay for two months, and up to 60 days of extra duties and restriction to the garrison.
• E-7 and above: may lose rank in a court martial; month’s pay for two months, and 45 days of extra duties and restriction to the garrison.
Officer: no loss of rank, restriction for 30 days, arrest in quarters for 60 days, loss of half of one month's pay for two months.
In a best case scenario, a service member may get only a General Officer Letter of Reprimand filed either locally or in a service members permanent record.
BAC limits are lower in many countries than in the U.S.Different countries have different DUI rates. Those assigned overseas should know the BAC limit for their country of assignment. For example both Germany and Italy’s BAC limit is
0.05. Those in South Korea should know that starting this year the legal limit for DUI will be among the most strict in the world. According to the U.S Department of State “Effective June 25 , the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for drivers will be lowered to 0.03 percent, from the current standard of 0.05 percent. The maximum penalty for impaired driving will be up to five years of imprisonment and/or 20 million won in fines. The BAC limit of 0.03 percent is a significantly stricter standard for impaired driving than in most states in the United States. A person may reach BAC of 0.03 percent by consuming only one standard drink. Impaired driving is dangerous and can have severe consequences, including criminal prosecution, civil liability, and/or administrative discipline.”
Aggressive legal representation makes a differenceAlcohol incidents can result in court martial, NJP, GOMARs and possibly separation from service. Service members should guard their careers carefully by understanding these risks and making good choices. In the unfortunate circumstance that a service member faces some kind of commander-initiated adverse action, service members should aggressively defend themselves with experienced legal representation. The negative outcome during a court martial or a separation board can be mitigated, if not eliminated, with a strong defense from an experienced military lawyer.