Here’s the scenario. An active duty servicemember commits family violence against the spouse. The spouse obtains a Protective Order through the civil court system that restrains the servicemember from commiting further acts of family violence. What’s the impact to the servicemember’s career? Well, there are four possible answers.
- The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) permits the servicemember’s commander to take appropriate action based on the underlying conduct (i.e. spousal abuse) whether or not the civil court system takes any action. Military commanders have wide discretion in how they use their authority under the UCMJ. Never forget that fact.
- Federal law prohibits the servicemember from possessing or transporting a firearm or ammunition in his or her “civilian capacity.” This prohibition is established in Federal criminal statutues at 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8). Should the servicemember have a second job as a State “peace officer,” as defined in Texas Penal Code § 107, then an exemption exists in Federal law that permits possession and use of a weapon and ammunition when performing duty as a State peace officer. The Federal exemption is found in 18 U.S.C. § 925(a)(1).
- The same Federal exemption found in 18 U.S.C. § 925(a)(1) permits the servicemember to possess a weapon and ammunition for official Federal Department or Agency duties, such as military training and deployment. In short, a military member will not become “instantly non-deployable” because he or she is restrained by a civil Protective Order.
- Should the servicemember violate the Protective Order and be convicted after notice and hearing of a felony or misdemeanor criminal act of family violence, then the servicemember’s career is in serious jeopardy. Department of Defense instructions establish what counts as a “qualifying conviction.” A servicemember with a qualifying conviction is unable to possess a weapon and ammunition in both his civilian and military capacities. The servicemember now is instantly non-deployable. Unless the servicemember can be used or retrained into a non-deployable career field, he or she may be subject to discharge.
In the end, while being restrained by a civil Protective Order isn’t necessarily fatal to the servicemember’s career, violating the order and being found guilty of a qualifying conviction tends to be fatal to a military career.
Author Jim Cramp is the founder and principal attorney at the Cramp Law Firm. Jim was a three-time commander and retired from the U.S. Air Force in the grade of colonel after having served 29 1/2 years active duty. The Cramp Law Firm provides a spectrum of family-related legal services in the greater San Antonio Region.