Every day we are contacted by military members who are in AWOL or desertion status. Two things come up in almost every consultation we do in a case like this: people don’t know what to do, and they have gotten very bad advice from a friends of theirs, some public interest organization, or another law firm.
AWOL and desertion are probably the two most common military crimes we deal with, but unfortunately they are too often the crimes that people know the least about. It seems that other places give advice about AWOL and desertion that treats all of these cases alike. The problem is that these cases are not alike, and if you think they are you’re going to end up getting hurt. These cases are common and they often have similarities, but there are many variables that go into each case and we never take a one-size-fits-all approach.
We are unaware of any civilian military law firm that does as many AWOL cases as we do, and we’re confident that we have dealt with a variety of challenges and experiences that enables us to handle any AWOL or desertion case.
Based on our experience we know that in almost every Desertion or AWOL case, the military member wants one thing: to get out of the military. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. For one thing, the military doesn’t have to separate a person who went AWOL and there’s nothing the member or any attorney can do to force the military to allow the member to separate from service. Usually the military will insist that the person go to jail before being separated. In almost every case, even those that don’t end up at a court-martial, the military will insist that the member receive an OTH separation at a minimum. In some cases, the military sends the person to jail for several months and then sends him back to his unit. We know of cases where the member returned from an AWOL, was sent to Iraq to serve out his tour, then court-martialed and sent to jail when he got back to the States. In rare Army cases, the member will most likely be processed for an administrative separation, but when that’s the case it’s only for members who went AWOL from AIT or basic training, and there’s no guarantee that will still be the way it’s handled tomorrow. Usually the threat is much greater.
Make no mistake: Desertion, AWOL, and failure to go are serious military offenses. If you are declared a deserter by the military, the government issues a federal warrant for your arrest. If you are stopped by the police for any reason, you will be arrested as a deserter. You will be locked up in the county jail as you wait to be hauled back into the military system. As you spend up to a month in the county jail, you will likely be kept with convicted criminals. You will go long periods without soap, shampoo, or toothpaste. You won’t be able to use your cell phone, and getting a call through to your family may be extremely difficult. Perhaps worst of all, you won’t be given any information about when you’ll be released from the jail and sent back to the military.
When you get back into the military system, you may be locked up again, maybe in a county jail, as you wait for your case to come around. When that day comes, you face charges that include the likelihood of confinement and a federal felony conviction that will stay on your record. It is critical that you have an experienced attorney fighting for you at every stage.
If you face military desertion, AWOL, or failure to go charges or are still away from your military unit, contact Gagne, Scherer and Associates. We have the experience you need on your side. We handle many cases just like yours. Click here for a consultation.
How we work.
Military members who have been on an unauthorized absence don’t know where to go, what to say, how to report – they want to get it all behind them, but they don’t know what to do. We help our clients get through the entire process with the maximum amount of protection and we explain the process every step of the way.
Most importantly, we won’t lie to you. You need an attorney, but you need one who will tell you the truth about your situation. The first hard truth we’ll tell you is that you can’t resolve this situation unless you go back. The second is that the military almost never cares about medical conditions, hazing, or family issues as excuses for going AWOL. The third is that in our experience appointed counsel will simply advise an AWOL client to plead guilty and accept the government’s first offer. Usually that offer includes several months in jail, often more than a year, along with a Bad Conduct Discharge. These are hard truths, but we can deal with them.
Perhaps the hardest fact to deal with from a lawyer’s standpoint is that there is almost never a legal defense to an unauthorized absence. Because of that, some civilian military firms won’t do AWOL cases. Worse, because there is no technical legal defense it is almost certain that an appointed counsel will advise the member to plead guilty. That will be the default advice, and the going-in position. However, we never go into a case looking to plead guilty, let alone looking to take a bad offer. The case may end up in a guilty plea if it’s necessary and in the client’s best interest, but we don’t believe a member should go into this process by entirely entrusting the matter to the government.
In fact, the worse it looks the more you need a good attorney. It’s rare that a member will have a technical legal defense to an unauthorized absence, but that’s no reason to give up. Too often, we see appointed counsel or other civilian attorneys treat AWOL like a second-class case. We treat it like the serious case it is. We work hard to find some compelling fact, some leverage, to use in order to help our clients, and if the government is unwilling to work with us to find a reasonable solution, we’re more than ready to take our case to a jury trial to see that justice is done. It takes creativity and experience to handle a case like this. We would never promise a particular outcome in any case, nor should any attorney, but we have the experience and skills necessary to do what needs to be done in a case like this.
In many cases our clients are back on the street, out of the military, within a few weeks of reporting back to military authorities, without having suffered prosecution, conviction, jail, and a punitive discharge. In many cases our clients have hired us after being advised to take a deal that would send them to jail for many months. In those cases we have often been able to avoid jail completely, or significantly lessen the sentence.
AWOL sounds like it’s a straight-forward issue. But even in terms of the legal issues, in many instances there will be a lot of confusion on the government’s side about how this kind of case should be handled. It’s not unusual for service members to be charged with desertion when they should be charged with AWOL, or AWOL when they should be charged with failure to go. We understand the differences between these charges. We also know how to get the military listen to your side of the story, without exposing you to an interrogation by military authorities. By getting our clients’ story out to the right people in the right way, we help make sure our clients are treated fairly.
With methods like these, the firm of Gagne, Scherer and Associates, LLC has helped its clients get through this difficult and overwhelming process with peace of mind and first-rate legal representation.