If you are under military investigation by NCIS, OSI, CID, or CGIS, it is very important for you to know your rights . You should ask to speak to a lawyer immediately and refuse to consent to any search until you have spoken to a lawyer. The Navy, Marine Corps, Army, and Coast Guard do not provide servicemembers with representation by a defense counsel during the military investigative stage. Obtaining the advice of a civilian military defense attorney can help you make the best choices to protect your rights and give you the strongest chance of success.
Here is some information to help you understand the process and what to expect.
Military Law Enforcement Agencies
Each military service has its own military law enforcement agencies.
- Navy and Marine Corps: Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS)
- Air Force and Space Force: Office of Special Investigations (OSI)
- US Army: Criminal Investigations Division (CID)
- Coast Guard: Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS)
These agencies investigate what we typically think of as “felony-level” offenses, such as drug offenses, sexual assault, homicide, child endangerment, domestic violence, and BAH or DTS fraud. They also investigate terrorism and engage in counterintelligence operations.
There are agencies that investigate lower-level offenses, such as minor drug offenses and driving under the influence.
- Navy and Marine Corps: Master-at-arms and Provost Marshal’s Office (PMO)
- Air Force and Space Force: Security Forces Investigations (S2I)
- US Army: Military Police (MPs)
How is a military investigation conducted?
An investigation starts when someone reports an offense under the UCMJ. The report can be done by an alleged victim, a witness, or a mandatory reporter. When the report is made to a law enforcement agency, the agency decides whether there is an offense within their jurisdiction to investigate. If there isn’t, they refer the complaint to the appropriate agency or back to the command for a command investigation. If it is something they can investigate, they open a case.
Command investigations are discussed below. The rest of this guide will address investigations by NCIS, OSI, CID, or CGIS.
The first step is usually to interview the alleged victim or the person who made the initial report. After that, investigators will determine what other witnesses might need to be interviewed, then conduct those interviews. They will also collect physical evidence for any testing that may need to take place, such as hair samples, a “rape kit”, or DNA. The labs that can conduct testing include the Defense Forensic Science Center (DFSC), the US Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory (USACIL), and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System (AFMES).
When will I be interviewed?
When you’re suspected of an offense by NCIS, OSI, CID, or CGIS, they will have someone from your command bring you in for an interview without telling you why you’re going there. For a sexual assault case, the interview usually happens relatively quickly after the alleged victim interview.
What happens during a suspect interview?
Before you are questioned about anything of substance, the Special Agents may use tactics to get you to feel comfortable talking to them. They may ask you about your favorite football team, talk to you about your children, or ask you what hobbies you have. This is called rapport building. It is designed to get you to drop your guard.
They will then read you your rights under Article 31(b) [HYPERLINK]. They will take the following steps:
- Identify themselves as a Special Agent and identify what agency they belong to
- Tell you the offense(s) you’re suspected of
- Read your rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present
The agent only needs to tell you the nature of the accusation against you. They are not required to get into the details of the alleged offense before you choose whether to invoke your rights.
If you ask them for more information about the nature of the allegation, they may tell you they need you to fill out the form first and say things like “we just want to hear your side of the story.” This is designed to get you to waive your rights.
They may also tell you things like “we don’t have a dog in this fight” or “we’re just here to get the facts, put them in a report, and give them to your commander.” Remember – everything you say will be held against you. An investigation is not neutral.
Special Agents may also tell you this interrogation is your one chance to give your side of the story. This is designed to pressure you into providing a statement without first consulting with an attorney. Investigators and commanders will still want to hear your statement even after you have consulted with an attorney.
Many people are shocked to learn that Special Agents are authorized to lie. They can tell you they have evidence they don’t really have, they can tell you stories about themselves that aren’t true, and they can make any false representation they want to try to get you to make a statement.
You should invoke your right to remain silent, refuse consent, and make a clear request to speak to an attorney. It may be tempting to want to “tell your side of the story,” but if you make a statement during the investigation, it could impact the outcome of your case.
Even if you have already made a statement, there are still many steps that a skilled military law defense attorney can take to get you the best outcome possible. That is why it is important to get a consultation with a military defense attorney.
Pretext phone calls and text messages
Special Agents often use phone calls and text messages from people you know to get you to admit to something that can be used against you later. Be wary of any texts that look suspicious. Special Agents don’t need to read you your rights before attempting to get you to say something incriminating to a witness.
For example, in a sexual assault case, the alleged victim will text you something like “I don’t remember what happened last night,” or “you knew that I was too drunk.” Those questions, and questions like them, are common for a law enforcement agent to use when they’re trying to get you to admit to sexual assault. In reality, your text messages or phone calls with the alleged victim are being recorded by investigators to be used against you.
This can also happen in other cases, such as drugs, larceny, or other offenses. Someone who has become an informant for law enforcement may text you asking weird or awkward questions that seem like they’re trying to get you to admit to something. This should be a red flag for you.
Commanders and commanding officers are authorized to conduct their own investigations. In the Navy, for example, it is called a “JAGMAN Investigation.” In the Army, it is called a “15-6.” In the Air Force and Space Force, it is called a “CDI” or “Commander Directed Investigation.” A Commander will typically appoint military Investigating Officers to investigate offenses like hostile work environment, property loss or destruction, or other offenses that do not warrant a law enforcement investigation.
Service members have a number of important rights during command investigations, and KMD provides advice and guidance during the process. Because command investigations can result in disciplinary action that can impact a member’s military career, including court-martial, it is important to consult with a military defense attorney early to develop an effective defense strategy.
Other Military Investigations
Steph and Abby have experience defending servicemembers during Inspector General (IG) Investigations, Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) investigations, and any other type of investigation cases. Both attorneys have represented servicemembers of all ranks, including senior officers, in every type of investigation.
Benefits of a Military Defense Attorney during an investigation
Having an aggressive defense early in the process can have a significant impact on the outcome. The benefits cannot be overstated. We talk to our clients extensively throughout the process to determine whether it’s in their best interest to remain silent, or whether it is more appropriate to make a statement early on. We answer any questions that come up during the course of the investigation. The process can be very lengthy and very intense. Oftentimes, our clients are treated like they are automatically guilty, which can be isolating. We are here for our clients throughout the entire investigation.
We individually tailor our advice to our client’s best interest, rather than taking a one-size fits all approach. This is reflected in our results. While we have represented hundreds of clients during the investigation stage, two recent results are indicative of the tailored work we do for our clients:
- In 2021, a Marine Gunnery Sergeant was accused of sexual assault. After rigorous preparation, Steph walked into NCIS with her client so he could make a statement. He was questioned for several hours while Steph kept NCIS agents in line. After the command received the report, along with his statement and video-recorded interview, the Commanding Officer dismissed the entire case.
- In 2022, a Navy Petty Officer First Class was accused of domestic violence and harassment. Steph worked to collect and organize nearly 500 pages of evidence refuting the allegations and exposing the accuser’s lies. The evidence was presented to NCIS, the prosecutors, and the commanding officer, and her client was exonerated of all charges. He commissioned later that year.
Get Advice from an experienced Military Defense Attorney
Steph and Abby are both highly-experience Defense Counsel and former Senior Prosecutors, They have been involved in, and advised on, hundreds of military investigations. When they were on active duty, they helped train military law enforcement officers on how to conduct investigations. They know how investigators put their cases together. They can give you advice and guidance about what happens during investigations, what the accusations really mean, and what you should do to protect yourself. The earlier you get us involved, the more likely it is that your case can be resolved favorably. Don’t hesitate to call.