Sea Change for Military Justice

Signed into law by President Obama in December 2016, the Military Justice Act of 2016 took effect on January 1, 2019. It provides the most sweeping changes to the military justice system since the implementation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1951. Some of the notable changes implemented by the Act include the:

1) Creation of a new special court-martial colloquially known as the “short-martial.” This new court-martial removes the accused’s option to elect a member panel (military version of a jury); instead mandating the judge alone option for both findings and sentencing. While the traditional special court-martial remains eligible to award up to a year of confinement and a bad conduct discharge, this new “short-martial” can only award confinement of up to six months and cannot adjudge a punitive discharge.

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Applying for a Military Discharge Upgrade


A majority of people serving in the military leave active duty service with an Honorable characterization of service discharge. For those that do not receive an Honorable discharge, Title 10 U.S.C Section 1553 authorizes the Secretary of the service concerned to "establish a board of review, consisting of five members, to review the discharge or dismissal (other than a discharge or dismissal by sentence of a general court-martial) of any former member of an armed force under the jurisdiction of his department upon its own motion or upon the request of the former member or, if he is dead, his surviving spouse, next of kin, or legal representative." The Discharge Review Board can upgrade general discharges, other than honorable (undesirable) discharges, and special court-martial bad conduct discharges, as well as change the reason for discharge or reenlistment code (in some circumstances).

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Help! Why does my background check show an arrest during my military service if I was never convicted of anything?

When applying for jobs, licenses, loans, concealed weapons permits, or anything else that requires a background check, many former military members discover that an accusation, investigation, or arrest from their time in the military is still reflected in their background investigation despite the fact they never received a conviction or even went to a trial. The realization that an unsubstantiated allegation or minor misconduct (resulting in nothing more than an NJP/Article 15) remains on a criminal database can leave military members feeling frustrated and confused. Read more below about why your background check might reveal inaccurate information and how Matthew T. Smith Law can assist you with correcting the background investigation database to more accurately reflect the final outcome of your case.

Criminal Justice Information Services and "Titling"

The Criminal Justice Information Service (CJIS) manages the criminal history record information for the Federal Government. It does this by operating a Next Generation Identification (NGI) database. The FBI NGI database is a national computerized system which stores, compares, and exchanges fingerprint data and criminal history information. Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies submit fingerprint cards and criminal history information to feed this NGI database.

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Misdemeanor or Felony – High Times Could Have You Up In Smoke

Florida Tampa St. Pete THC cannabis weed misdemeanor felony attorney criminal defense

In Florida, marijuana vaping could lead to felony charges.

A mix of factors–such as legalization of recreational marijuana in other states, large scale cannabis production, and the rise of vape pen use–has led to a dramatic increase in the amount of people possessing and using THC concentrates. In addition to the THC oils used to smoke in vape pens, many users are also leaving behind the traditional leafy, bud form of marijuana in favor of more concentrated, exotic cannabis options for dabbing like rosin, sap, wax, shatter, “pull and snap,” crumble or budder. When choosing these more concentrated versions of cannabis over marijuana in its normal plant-form, many users in Florida fail to consider their exposure to significantly harsher punishments if caught by the police.Continue reading

Hillsborough County’s New Reducing Impaired Driving Recidivism (RIDR) Initiative Offers Some Major Benefits (and Costs) to First-Time DUI Offenders

Tampa DUI attorney

Hillsborough County is changing the way it prosecutes first-time DUI cases.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend an informational meeting hosted by Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office. During this meeting, Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren introduced the county’s new RIDR initiative (Reducing Impaired Driving Recidivism). The purpose of the RIDR program is to “target and reduce impaired driving by imposing enhanced sanctions…on first-time, non-aggravated DUI offenders.” While area defense counsel expressed some concerns with implementation, the potential benefits of this program have potential to outweigh the costs and are certainly worth reading about and discussing with a local defense attorney.Continue reading

My Security Clearance Was Just Suspended. What Happens Next?

Clients are often confused about the security clearance suspension and revocation process; as well as the due process rights they are afforded. The following article discusses the basics of what you can expect should you be served with a letter of intent to revoke your clearance. This discussion is primarily focussed on the Department of Defense process, but the process is substantially similar for other Departments such as the Defense Intelligence Agency, CIA, or NSA.

Controlling Regulations

The controlling regulations for assigning responsibilities and establishing procedures for security clearance actions are DOD MANUAL 5200.02 “Procedures for the DOD Personnel Security Program (PSP) and DoD Directive 5220.6 “Defense Industrial Personnel Security Clearance Review Program.”

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Trifecta: Three things to know about horse racing law before opening day

This Saturday, November 25th, marks opening day for horse racing at the Tampa Bay Downs @TampaBayDowns #TampaBayDowns. Given that this year’s Florida-Florida State game doesn’t really mean much more than bragging rights for whose team sucks just a little less than the other, dawning some derby attire, having some drinks, and having some fun at the races is a great alternative. If you decide to make it to the Tampa Bay Downs, here’s a trifecta of some laws and rules operating behind the scenes that you might not be aware of:

There is no Florida Racing Commission

Unlike many states, Florida does not have a Racing Commission. Instead, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering handles the duties and responsibilities typically carried out by a racing commission. In addition to horse racing and harness racing, the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering also oversees greyhound racing, jai-alai, card rooms, and slot machines in Florida.


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#NavyToo: How the Navy’s Failure to Update Its Sexual Harassment Policy Could Lead to the Overturned Convictions of Harassers

Sexual harassment claims have rocked Hollywood in recent weeks, with more and more people sharing experiences of inappropriate advances by powerful elites like studio head Harvey Weinstein. While sexual assault is a crime everywhere in the United States, for the most part sexual harassment is not. In the United States military however, sexual harassment is a crime, with each Department having a punitive order prohibiting it. For the Navy though, a failure to timely update its sexual harassment policy may mean that the policy self-canceled, allowing Petty Officer Weinstein-like sexual harassment to go unpunished.Continue reading

A 40-Year Deserter from the Air Force Was Arrested Last Week in Florida: How a good defense could make prosecuting him more difficult than the Air Force expects

Mugshot of Jeffrey Michels (AKA Jeffrey Lantz) accused of deserting the Air Force more than 40 years ago

During a week in which Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl pled guilty in one of the highest profile desertion cases in military history, you may have missed news of another desertion case. On October 12th, Seminole County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Jeffrey Michels for military desertion. Forty years ago, in July 1977, Jeffrey Michels failed to report for duty at the Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. Instead, he apparently deserted; assumed the name Jeffrey Lantz; settled in Florida; married and had kids; and established a construction business. While the the newspaper headlines sound sensational, it is important to remember that Mr. Michels is entitled to the protections of due process; due process that means prosecuting this case is more difficult than the Air Force expects. There is even a chance that Mr. Michels could walk away without a convictionContinue reading

Five Things Every Barracks Lawyer Needs to Know About NJP/Captain’s Mast

NJP Captain's Mast
When speaking to a defense attorney (#3), also ask what the likelihood is that the command will pursue a court-martial if you refuse NJP. For many low-level offenses, if you refuse NJP, the command is very unlikely to go forward with a court-martial as it wouldn’t be worth the time, expense, or manpower. Definitely explore this NJP refusal option with the defense attorney. During my time as a Marine Corps defense counsel at Camp Pendleton, our default advice was to refuse NJP. Even if the command decided to go forward with a court-martial, it was almost always possible to get them to agree to a pretrial agreement bringing the case back to NJP.

In the near future however, the Military Justice Act of 2016 will take effect and convening authorities will have the option to send low level cases to judge alone trials. This will save time, money, and manpower (no need to appoint a member/jury panel) so your commander will be more likely to use this type of trial in response to an NJP refusal.