ADC ensures fair representation for accused

  • Published
  • By Staff Sergeant Matthew Freeborn
  • Area Defense Counsel
Thirty five years ago, many people believed the military justice system was stacked against the accused. The defense lawyers representing the accused in courts-martial, nonjudicial punishment and other adversarial actions were appointed by the convening authority, who was typically the base commander. Both the prosecution and defense lawyers would have their performance reports endorsed by the same individual--usually the Staff Judge Advocate.

Because of the perception of possible command influence, the Air Force began a new defense attorney program in 1974. That is when the defense function began to report directly to the Judge Advocate General of the Air Force through a separate chain of command from the base legal office. This policy created a truly independent defense attorney system Air Force wide.

The new program has been a resounding success for the past thirty-five years. The program consists of the appointment of an Area Defense Counsel whose sole duties are to represent accused in various adverse administrative and judicial matters. Additionally, a Defense Paralegal is appointed to assist the ADC.

The chain of command for an ADC today remains completely separate from that of the other attorneys at the base legal office. The ADC officer performance report is written by their boss, the Senior Defense Counsel, and endorsed off base. The ADC officer is expected and encouraged to argue vigorously on an accused's behalf against the command, if necessary. The defense counsel is also governed by military and state ethical guidelines which dictate that the ADC will represent every accused to the best of their ability.

The ADC provides legal representation, free of charge, to active-duty servicemembers facing disciplinary or other adverse actions. The following are some of the commonly requested services: Uniform Code of Military Justice proceedings, such as Courts-Martial and article 15's; suspect rights advisements; adverse administrative actions, such as officer and enlisted discharge proceedings, administrative demotion actions, Letters of Reprimand, Unfavorable Information Files; as well as officer and enlisted referral responses.

Many people hesitate to speak candidly with the ADC because they feel that the government may at some future time use things they say against them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everything a client says to the ADC is held in strict confidence and cannot be divulged in court or anywhere else, with few exceptions, without the client's permission. The Military Rules of Evidence and professional ethical guidelines protect this privilege of confidentiality.

The accused always have the right to hire a civilian lawyer to represent them at their own expense. If they hire a civilian lawyer, they may keep the ADC on their case or release them. The accused may also have the right to request a different military counsel. If they know an ADC at another base, for example, they may request that ADC to represent them. The rule usually is that the requested counsel must be "reasonably available," and higher level authorities make that decision.

For more information or to talk with the Area Defense Counsel call 247-2918. The ADC is located in building 2245 on the second floor, above the finance office.