Area defense counsel represents you in court

(U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton/Released)

(U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton/Released)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Forty years ago, people could make the argument that the military justice system was stacked against the accused. The defense lawyers who represented accused persons in courts-martial, nonjudicial punishment and other adverse actions were appointed by the convening authority, who was typically the base commander. Both the prosecution and defense lawyers had their performance reports endorsed by the same individual, usually the staff judge advocate.

Because of this perception of unlawful command influence, the Air Force began a new defense attorney program in 1974. This policy created a truly independent, Air Force-wide defense attorney system.

The defense function began to report directly to the Judge Advocate General of the Air Force through a chain of command separate from the base legal office. The program consists of the appointment of an Area Defense Counsel, whose sole duty is to represent the accused in various adverse administrative and judicial matters. Additionally, a defense paralegal is appointed to assist the ADC. The program has been a resounding success for the past forty years.

Today, an ADC's chain of command remains completely separate from that of the other attorneys at the base legal office. An ADC's officer performance report is written by an independent supervisor (the senior defense counsel) and endorsed off-base by the Air Force Legal Operations Agency.

An ADC is expected and encouraged to advocate vigorously on an accused's behalf, even if that's against the command. An ADC is bound by military and state ethical rules, which dictate that an ADC will represent every accused zealously and ethically. If an accused is unhappy with their ADC, they may release them and request a different military counsel. An accused always has the right to hire a civilian lawyer, at their own expense. If they hire a civilian lawyer, they may keep an ADC on their case or choose to release them.

People may hesitate to speak candidly with an ADC because they feel their communications are not protected, but nothing could be further from the truth. Everything a client says to an ADC that is within the scope of the legal representation is held in strict confidence. With few exceptions, communications between an ADC and a client cannot be divulged in court or anywhere else, without the client's permission. The Military Rules of Evidence and professional ethical guidelines endorse and protect this privilege of confidentiality.

An ADC provides legal representation, free of charge, to active duty service members facing disciplinary or other adverse actions. The following are some of the commonly requested services: courts-martial, Articles 15, suspect rights advisements and adverse administrative actions (such as officer and enlisted discharge proceedings, administrative demotion actions, letters of reprimand, unfavorable information files and officer and enlisted referral performance reports).

For more information or to talk with or make an appointment with the Area Defense Counsel, call (509) 247-2918. The ADC is located on the second floor of Building 2245, the 92nd Communications and Comptroller Squadrons.