Defense for members of the military charged with crimes in Nevada
Members of the military who commit crimes while off-base in Nevada can be prosecuted in one of the following ways:
- By court-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ),
- In Nevada District Court under the Nevada Revised Statutes, or
- In United States District Court under Title 18 of the United States Code.
To help you better understand how and when each of these laws is applied, our Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:
- 1. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (“UCMJ”)
- 2. Concurrent military and civilian jurisdiction for off-base crimes
- 3. Crimes on non-military federal lands within Nevada
- 4. Defending members of the military in civilian court
1. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (“UCMJ”)
The Uniform Code of Military Justice applies to all members of the uniformed services of the United States: the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard1, Marine Corps, Navy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps, and Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. It sets forth codes that regulate on-base conduct and requires active duty personnel to follow all applicable rules of military conduct, whether on- or off-duty, or on- or off- base.
Military bases fall within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States as defined under 18 U.S. Code 7. Under that section of federal law, the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction includes:
“Any lands reserved or acquired for the use of the United States, and under the exclusive or concurrent jurisdiction thereof, or any place purchased or otherwise acquired by the United States by consent of the legislature of the State in which the same shall be, for the erection of a fort, magazine, arsenal, dockyard, or other needful building.”
Military bases and other places subject to the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States are sometimes referred to as “federal enclaves.” While members of the military are on-base, they are subject exclusively to federal law, primarily as set forth in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In cases of on-base crimes for which the UCMJ does not explicitly set forth a crime or punishment, the criminal code of the United States applies.
It is important for members of the military to note, however, that acts which violate Nevada’s criminal laws are also considered violations of federal law when committed on-base. This is because of 18 U.S. Code 13, known as the “Assimilative Crimes Act.”
Under the Assimilative Crimes Act, violations of Nevada criminal law committed on-base by members of the military carry the same penalties as if Nevada law applied. However, they are usually investigated by military police and prosecuted by court-martial.
2. Concurrent military and civilian jurisdiction for off-base crimes
When active members of the military go off-base in Nevada, they are still subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. However, they are also subject to Nevada law (or, if on other federal property located in Nevada, to federal criminal laws, as discussed in Section 3, below).
Another way of saying this is that the U.S. military and the Nevada justice system have “concurrent jurisdiction” over crimes committed by members of the military while off-base in Nevada.
What this means is that if a member of the military commits a crime while on the Las Vegas strip or another non-federal area of Nevada, he or she can be prosecuted either in Nevada District Court or by military court-martial. In very rare cases in which the UCMJ and Nevada law define crimes differently, you could face both a court-martial and civilian prosecution. However, in practice, this rarely happens thanks to the “Double Jeopardy” clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Double Jeopardy Clause provides that no one can be tried or punished twice for substantially the same criminal offense. As a result, military and civilian law enforcement will usually come to an agreement as to who will prosecute the crime.
Note, however, that while you are not subject to court-martial if you are tried in Nevada District court, you may still face administrative or disciplinary action by the military, including potential discharge or punishment by your commanding officer.2
3. Crimes on non-military federal lands within Nevada
Members of the military are subject to federal criminal laws as set forth in Title 18 of the U.S. Code while off-base. In particular, you are subject to 18 U.S. Code while visiting federal lands other than military bases located within Nevada.
Federal lands within the state of Nevada include (but are not limited to):
- National parks and recreation areas, such as Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas;
- McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and Reno-Tahoe International Airport;
- Federal buildings and courthouses;
- Post offices; and
- Native American reservations.
4. Defending members of the military in civilian court
Members of the military charged with crimes in civilian court have the right to a public defender just like any other defendant. However, public defenders may not have experience dealing with military personnel and the particular challenges involved in defending members of the United States armed forces.
That’s where we come in. Our federal and Nevada criminal defense lawyers have a great deal of experience interviewing military personnel and working with all types of law enforcement and prosecutors. We are versed in all aspects of Nevada and federal criminal law and procedure.
We represent members of the armed forces stationed throughout Nevada, including those at Nellis Air Force Base, Naval Air Station Fallon, Hawthorne Army Depot, Stead Air Force Base, the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center, Creech Air Force Base, Tonopah Test Range, and the Nevada National Security Site.
Arrested for an off-base crime in Las Vegas or Reno/Tahoe? Call us for help…
If you or a family member serving in the military has been charged with a violation of Nevada or federal criminal law, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.
One of our caring Reno or Las Vegas, Nevada criminal defense attorneys will get back to you promptly to discuss your case and the best defenses to your off-base criminal charges. We handle crimes ranging from DUI, domestic violence and assault, all the way up to sexual assault and murder.
You can call us anytime. Or, if you prefer, simply complete and submit the form on this page.
- When operating as part of the U.S. Navy.
- See Article 15 of the UCMJ.