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New Uniform Code of Military Justice laws affect DWI cases

Major reforms to the Uniform Code of Military Justice laws began January 1, 2019. The Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman noted the changes are the most significant updates to the criminal code since the UCMJ's inception in 1950.

The new laws include changes to panels--the equivalent of a jury--and judges. The UCMJ revisions provide new powers of judicial investigation, as well as new sentencing rules. Several reforms are pertinent to a service person facing potential DWI / DUI charges.

How does Texas define DUI and DWI?

Although these terms often represent the same concept for the average person, the terms have specifically different meanings and penalties in Texas. Consequences for DUI and DWI charges are also different, and while usually misdemeanors, law enforcement can charge an impaired driver with a felony upon bodily injury to another person.

A DWI refers to driving while intoxicated by drugs or a specific blood alcohol concentration or BAC of 0.08 or higher. Texas defines DUI as driving when adversely influenced by ingesting a substance, even with a BAC under the legal limit. With a DUI, a minor is not allowed to have any trace of alcohol present when operating the vehicle.

UCMJ revisions that affect impaired driving charges

New crimes are part of the UCMJ update, as well as rule changes. The new version still rules that the military can charge an enlisted person, whether on or off base, with substance impaired vehicle operation. A service person is guilty of DUI even with a parked car while the driver is walking around elsewhere with the keys in his or her pocket. Military law is not tolerant of inebriated behavior, even when someone is off duty and off the military base property.

Important changes to the UCMJ include:

  • BAC for driving on any military base standardized and lowered from .10 for certain bases to .08 for all bases.
  • Military judges can now order internet providers or social media to turn over online communications for purposes of criminal investigation.
  • Military judges can also order a subpoena or wiretap during discovery before sending a case to court-martial.
  • The accused may no longer choose between a panel or judge-only trial for certain crimes; the government will pick the method.
  • If a judge issues sentence, an accused person's offenses are now considered separately.
  • A judge can allow a convicted person to serve sentences concurrently.
  • Panel sizes increase for general and special court-martials; conviction ratio changes from a vote of two-thirds to a vote of three-quarters.

Any enlisted person accused of a crime may want to exercise the right to legal representation and protection by contacting an off-base civilian representative with strong experience in DWI defense.

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