CONFLICT OF INTEREST: MARINE CORPS LAWYERS SIMULTANEOUSLY SERVE AS PROSECUTORS AND DEFENSE ATTORNEYS

For several years, the Marine Corps has required its JAG lawyers to serve simultaneously as both prosecutors and defense counsel for those servicemen and women under court martial.  Under this practice, the Marine Corps transfers its attorneys from defense to prosecution; after Marine Corps defense attorneys become prosecutors, they reportedly are not permitted to prosecute the same defendants thay had previously defended, but nevertheless are obligated to wrap up whatever defense cases they had.

Most troubling, Marine Corps defense attorneys who are transferred to prosecutorial duties must then report to prosecutor bosses who are overseeing the very cases that those attorneys are still required to defend.  And those prosecution bosses are are grading those attorneys for promotion.

The big question then is how zealously can an attorney defend a case when the prosecutor is evaluating him or her for promotion?

“What part of this isn’t a bomb waiting to explode?”  asked Judge J.A. Maksym of the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals during a July 1 oral argument.  More importantly, how many Marines may have been shortchanged by a potentially conflicted military defense attorney?

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