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NEWS | Feb. 9, 2010

Consider the consequences of a DUI

By Staff Sgt. Robert Shearer Area Defense Counsel

Each decision has its own consequences, and this is especially true for the decision to drink alcohol.

Rarely does the story about driving under the influence begin with, "I headed out that night to drink and drive home drunk."

In every situation, the idea was something completely different. The individual usually had a designated driver set before he or she decided to drink, or they drove to the bar and were going to call a taxi for a ride home.

The list goes on and on about the different situations brought to the Area Defense Counsel. Without fail, somewhere between developing a safety plan and executing the plan, something goes wrong.

South Carolina has strict laws for drunk driving. If the individual is lucky enough to get caught before hurting him or herself or, even worse, another person, numerous possible consequences are in store.

Once there is probable cause to believe a military driver was under the influence, they will be taken into custody and held for hours, until either released to their unit or released at a bond hearing.

This, unfortunately, is when the problems really begin. The Office of the Staff Judge Advocate has the opportunity to request jurisdiction from the county or city where a person is scheduled to appear in court. In fact, pursuant to Air Force Instruction 51-201, Administration of Military Justice, paragraph 2.6, the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate is obligated to "foster relationships with local civilian authorities with a view toward maximizing Air Force jurisdiction."

If the Air Force receives jurisdiction, an Airman could be facing actions up to and including a full court-martial. In the past, units have leaned towards Article 15s and almost always a reduction in grade as punishment. Recently however, there have been a number of cases brought to court-martial. While not every driving under the influence offense will be taken to a court-martial, the precedent has been set and many commanders are utilizing this option.

Depending on the type of court-martial you face, you could receive several possible punishments including forfeiture of pay, reduction in grade, confinement, and a punitive discharge. Also, depending on the type of court-martial, members may also receive a federal conviction. Try explaining a federal conviction at a first civilian job interview.

However, if the county or city does not relinquish jurisdiction, service members will be facing the stiff state penalties. Furthermore, if the Air Force doesn't receive jurisdiction, members are still not in the clear as far as a military career goes. Unit commanders maintain a number of options, including a Letter of Reprimand, an Unfavorable Information File, an administrative separation or other possible actions.

Multiple convictions for drunk driving may also result in a court ordered installation of an ignition interlock device on one's vehicle at the convicted driver's expense. Convicted drunk drivers may also face a permanent revocation of one's driver's license under special circumstances. The Department of Motor Vehicles will publish and release the names of all drivers who have had their license suspended because of a DUI.

Sometimes, people find themselves in situations they did not anticipate. But the decision to drink and drive is not one in which most will find much sympathy; there are just too many easy alternatives. Commanders know this, first sergeants know this and juries know this ... and they are growing increasingly intolerant of DUIs.