Navigating Through Court Martials

Tipon: The military brings people (not only brings but attracts people) who are very willing to please, who are very forthright. They are taught and they are engrained (in their mind) to come clean, if you will. All you have to do is admit your mistake, even stuff they didn’t do—even things they didn’t do.

They’re very young and impressionable, and they want to please people. They want to admit things they necessarily didn’t do because they’re looking for that affirmation from their leaders.

I mean, you’ve got a guy who’s an E-3 (very low ranking) talking to either an experienced and seasoned investigator (some of whom are on active duty and some who hold a higher rank than these guys) and they exert a lot of pressure on them to just confess—just admit. "Just admit it and your command will be pleased with you. They’ll be happy that you can do it. We’ll get you back your to your unit, and we’ll get you trained."

Because they understand that in that mind of that young service member is that all that guy wants to do is go back to his unit—be back with his comrades, go back to training.

Because isn’t that what we all join the military for? I know that was part of the attraction for me as a young officer, even as a 2 nd Lieutenant. I went through The Basic School and I understand the pressures that these kids are in because you do—you want to please those people above you. You want to be able to say to them, "Yes. Yes, I admit to this."

You are taught, you are engrained in that from a very early stage in your military career, if you will, and that is the backdrop behind which the investigators start their questioning.

And it turns out that a lot of these kids, through long hours of interrogation (I’ve seen interrogations that last 6/7/8/9 hours—of interrogation) with all these pressures telling them they’re liars, just go in there and admit something that might not have even happened.

Interviewer: And do you feel that many times the accused doesn’t realize that until they’re very deep in?

Tipon: Well, the accused rarely realizes it. And the reason why the accused rarely realizes it is because most of my clients are these 18/19/21 year old kids who are in the military and think that they have a Captain or a Major who’s representing them. And for those kids who are in the military, they actually put a lot of stock and rely heavily on these Officers who they just don’t realize don’t have a lot of experience. Because what these kids are used to (when they have a Captain or a Major that they encounter) is someone who had years-and-years of experience leading other service members and have years-and-years of experience doing what they’re doing.

In the military, these JAG lawyers—they just don’t have that comparable level of experience because they’re promoted very quickly. They’re put in front of juries handling serious felony cases at a very early stage in their career. And the service member who’s 18/19 or 20 years old is going to put a lot of stock in to what these officers are telling them. They’re going to rely heavily on the advice that they get and they kind of take this hands-off approach.

Now, luckily, there are parents out there who understand the significance of allegations that their child might be facing, and luckily we might have some senior NCOs or staff NCOs who are out there, who might understand the serious nature of the crimes that they’re being accused of. Then, that’s when they take a step back and they look for a civilian attorney who has that requisite amount of experience to actually handle this complex litigation, because that’s what it is. It’s not a case. It’s not just an allegation. It is a complex litigation where the prosecution team assembles several military service members, several Officers dedicated to the prosecution and conviction of a service member. And the defense is significantly outnumbered just about every prosecution, whether it’s the simplest allegation to the most severe allegation.

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