Article 31 Rights. Do you have the right to remain silent?

UCMJ Article 31 Rights for Military Crimes

Article 31 rights. Can you remain silent as a soldier? Can investigators order you to talk?

“You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”

Anyone who has ever watched a crime drama on television knows that famous line that the cop tells the perp just before putting the cuffs on. Believe it or not, this line is more than some piece of iconic “cop drama” dialog. As a matter of fact, that phrase and the rights accompanying it have their origin in a famous court case known as Miranda v. Arizona and are often referred to as “Miranda” warnings.

If you are a Soldier, Airman, Sailor, or Marine, you may be asking yourself, what good is Miranda to me? I have to follow orders, do what I am told. I can’t refuse to answer questions, can I? Well, the short answer is “yes,” you can refuse to answer questions. In fact, as a member of the armed forces, whether Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, you actually have more rights when suspected of a crime than a civilian.

To fully appreciate, let’s look at the process for civilian law enforcement.

For Miranda to apply in the civilian world, certain conditions must be satisfied.

  • Firstly, the individual being questioned must be in police custody. Custody means that they are not free to leave. The definition of custody could be met by being in a locked room, being handcuffed, or even being told that you will be charged with a crime.
  • Secondly, you must be subject to interrogation. Thus, questions regarding identity or other identifiers, even if in custody, do not necessarily require civilian police to provide civilian suspects with Miranda warnings.

Example: Let’s say you are a civilian and the police suspect you of committing a robbery. Officer Jones calls you on the phone and says something like, “why don’t you come down to the station so I can get your side of things?” In response, you drive to the police station and meet Officer Jones, who immediately asks you if you committed the robbery.

Are Miranda warnings required by civilian law enforcement in this situation?
The answer is no.

Remember the requirements for civilians, custody, and interrogation. Clearly, you have interrogation based upon Officer Jones’s question. However, you voluntarily drove to the police station at Officer Jones’s request. You were not forced to go to the police station. You could have decided to ignore Officer Jones and stay home. Thus, Officer Jones does not need to give you any warnings as the civilian requirement of custody has not been met. Therefore, he can continue asking about the robbery. More importantly, were you to admit to the robbery under these circumstances, the government would be able to use that admission against you in court.

Miranda rights for the military are different than civilian law enforcement.

In Military law enforcement circles, the concept of an absolute right against self-incrimination is a bit different.

Miranda rights for Military members are controlled by Article 31, UCMJ. Basically, before CID, OSI, NCIS, CGIS, or any other military law enforcement agent interrogates a suspect, they must advise them of their rights under Article 31.

Article 31 rights include the:

  • right to remain silent,
  • right to have an attorney, and
  • the right to stop answering questions at any time.

The biggest difference between Article 31 for Military members and Miranda for civilians is the custody requirement.  All military members are entitled to Article 31 rights.  Regardless of whether or not they are in official custody.   Thus, Military members have a substantial advantage over civilians in this regard.

Keeping all of this in perspective

Remember the golden rule; if you are suspected of a crime, it is NEVER a good idea to talk to law enforcement.

As a former cop, I can tell you that law enforcement officers have one job; to gather evidence. They are not your friends, and they don’t care about your side of the story. They conduct interviews with suspects to support their arrests. Understanding that dynamic puts you way ahead of most other people in this situation.

So remember, just because you are a military member, regardless of the branch of service or your rank, you cannot be ordered by anyone to incriminate yourself. You have an absolute right under UCMJ Article 31 to remain silent and request an attorney. I think I speak for many attorneys, both military and civilian alike, when I say know your rights and exercise them liberally. It’s the best thing you can do to improve your chances when faced with criminal accusations.

Need an attorney to represent you? Contact Crisp and Associates Military Law for a consultation. Our veteran-owned and operated firm understands your military rights. Check out our video on Article 31 here.