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Quantico wrong in handling of DUI cases, judge says

A federal judge has ruled that the civil rights of five drivers cited for drunk driving at the Quantico Marine Corps base in Northern Virginia were violated and has dismissed the cases. It shows the necessity of the appeals process, and that the government can be overzealous in punishing people.

The U.S. District Court judge said the five enlisted Marines charged had been duped into agreeing to the potential of both civilian criminal and military punishment. Base officials, the judge said, had erred in allowing both types of punishment in its policy on DUI cases.

Quantico's policy had been to seek both civilian prosecution and a military sanction, but that can only happen if a Marine agrees to waive the right to a court martial and seek to have the case heard in a nonjudicial manner. Facing a court martial and a criminal punishment could result in double jeopardy. However, since a nonjudicial finding would be administrative, double jeopardy would not occur.

At a Marine base, a Marine is typically charged with a DUI on base is prosecuted through the courts or the military, but not both.

Quantico officials said the base would change its policies. A spokesman said the intention had been to make sure that Marines and civilians who violated drunk driving laws received the same treatment. By seeking criminal charges against the Marines, it would ensure that a guilty conviction would wind up on the Marine's driving history. When handled within the military alone, that does not happen.

Now, records with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles will no longer reflect a Marine's DUI if the case goes through nonjudicial proceedings.

The judge's ruling is just the latest in this case, which wound up in federal court 18 months ago. He upheld an earlier finding to throw out the cases, ruling that the base had not informed the Marines of the advantages and disadvantages of waiving their right to a court martial.

The military had argued that the Marines knew their rights and had the option to consult with an attorney before making a decision.

Source: Associated Press, "Judge tosses DWI cases at Quantico, says Marines' rights were violated; base changing policy," March 30, 2012

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Ronald E. Smith, P.C.

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