Military / Active Duty

Witt Law Group – Premier Criminal Defense For Active Duty Military

Witt Law Group’s offices are conveniently located to serve active duty at Naval Base Kitsap, which is located on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington state. Naval Base Kitsap was created in 2004 by merging the former Naval Station Bremerton with Naval Submarine Base Bangor. If you live in the area, you will often hear submariners refer to being stationed at Bangor or at Keyport but it is all part of NBK. Sailors will typically refer to Navy Base Kitsap located in Silverdale since, within the area, there is also the possibility of being based at Naval Station Everett, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, or Naval Magazine Indian Island.

We do not handle criminal matters for sailors facing civilian criminal charges in the Everett or Whidbey Island area but we are happy to provide a referral to another law firm.

If you are serving in the Air Force or Army in western Washington, you are likely stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Pierce County, Washington. For these service members, the civilian criminal cases are most frequently charged in Pierce or Thurston counties or the cities within that area such as Lakewood, Tacoma, Puyallup, Olympia, and Yelm.

Witt Law Group handles all aspects of civilian criminal charges, including Department of Licensing consequences from criminal charges. We do not handle cases prosecuted under the UCMJ.

Finally, if you are no longer active duty but work at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) or Naval Base Kitsap, we are happy to assist in providing legal guidance. Even as civilians, it is possible to have challenges that impact your employment because you possess certain military clearance to enter the shipyard and/or base. 

Why do our military service members face a more challenging time with civilian criminal cases?

Military service members have unique challenges when it comes to legal issues in the civilian world. If the sailor or soldier does not understand the function of military legal vs. civilian legal services, it can create a great deal of frustration and negative consequences.

First, most active duty members have been relocated to Washington from another state so any notice they receive from a court is likely sent to the address on their home state drivers license. In our experience, most soldiers and sailors do not request a new drivers license in each state where they are relocated. This makes for some challenges in timely notice of a pending criminal charge.

Second, since active duty members are relocated or deployed frequently, the individual is accustomed to leaving the geographical area without concern for follow up and, furthermore, has no understanding of how to “monitor” potential problems.

Third, when problems arise, the individual typically tries to make an appointment with their branch of military legal to seek advice. For any military-related matter or punishment, this makes sense. Unfortunately, waiting to get the appointment and then being advised that military lawyers do not advise on civilian criminal issues, eats up valuable time to resolve criminal cases with the least amount of challenges. 

How do I know if I should consult with a private criminal defense lawyer?

If you were ever stopped by law enforcement and/or under suspicion for a crime, even if not arrested, you should consult with a civilian private criminal defense lawyer. Depending on the nature of the case, you may not be charged for a year or more. Where blood was drawn, such as a DUI stop, the state toxicology lab may not return the results of that sample for a year. Additionally, the officer may have had enough information at the time of the stop to submit notice to DOL of the investigation, which could potentially suspend your drivers license long before you are actually charged by the prosecutor. Most people are unaware that a DUI criminal charge triggers both a civil administrative consequence and a criminal consequence in the state of Washington. A public defender can only help with the criminal case. If you request a DOL hearing in time, your private criminal defense attorney should handle both matters. 

Should I leave on deployment if I believe I am under investigation and I do not know if I have a criminal charge?

This situation happens all the time in Kitsap County. With Naval Base Kitsap, there are so many submariners or sailors who are living in civilian life as well as military life. Sometimes, while off base, events occur that leave the service member wondering if a civilian consequence will arise down the road.

We have helped hundreds or perhaps thousands of active military members handle the “wait and see” phase while you may be under investigation. There is no reason to panic and it is entirely possible, by having an attorney monitor the situation, you might avoid any negative consequences while you are deployed. For more information on that topic, click the button below. 

What Can Happen If I Am Restationed While A Criminal Case Is Pending? 

What steps can I take to avoid getting a warrant while deployed?

The best thing to do is call a local criminal defense attorney right when the questionable incident happens. Make sure the law firm you call is very experienced in this area. Just as you would not call a dermatologist if you needed open heart surgery, do not call law firms that “dabble” in this area or have no experience in criminal defense. If you are active military and potentially facing a criminal charge, you absolutely need the right lawyer. 

What if I am facing a court martial or other military consequences?

The civilian world is quite different than the military world when it comes to prosecution. For this reason, we have the best referrals to defend you in military courts. We handle all civilian consequences and, if there is a need for a military attorney, we will get you in the best hands to handle all adverse actions you might be facing. 

How do I know whether I have a civilian consequence or facing a military prosecution? 

Most likely, the nature of your potential charge will tell us who will have jurisdiction. If you were stopped or investigated by a civilian law enforcement agent and it was not on base, you are likely facing a local municipal or county prosecutor. Depending on the location, it could also be on federal land and, in that case, it could be in federal court. In matters where the case is not in military court, you are facing civilian rules and punishments (jail, fines, etc.) as defined by the Revised Code of Washington. However, it is possible that you may also face non-judicial punishments from your command or due to rules under the UCMJ. 

What will a civilian criminal defense attorney do for me while I am deployed?

If you hire Witt Law Group, we monitor your matter through weekly contacts with the court and prosecutor’s office. Whenever possible, we try to negotiate the case even prior to the actual criminal charging. This avoids an arrest record altogether because the criminal case is never charged. Additionally, if we know one of our clients is facing an upcoming Arraignment date but is still deployed, we can have that court date moved and no warrant will be issued. You can serve your duty without the stress or fear that you will have an arrest warrant when you return. It is also best to have a civilian contact for our office as well. Should it become necessary to request a DOL administrative hearing within 7 days, we can quickly contact your representative to have this option preserved so you do not automatically have your drivers license suspended. 

What if I have an upcoming court date but I am also facing Nonjudicial Punishment (NJP)?

When a soldier or sailor is facing NJP for a violation of the UCMJ, the individual can accept the punishment or seek a military attorney to seek a court martial trial. Most of our military clients are in the Navy and this NJP is often referred to as Captain’s Mast. When facing Captain’s Mast, the sailor’s command will determine an appropriate punishment. Sometimes, we will receive a call from the sailor’s command to discuss what is likely to happen and how serious the offense or punishment could be in the civilian court.

In most cases, the command wants to make sure the sailor serves punishment for the violation but they also want it to be a learning experience so they are supportive of the sailor. For that reason, we usually see sailors accept the NJP rather than proceed to a military trial. This allows the sailor to serve their punishment immediately after the arrest or filing of the criminal charge while Ryan begins negotiating on the civilian side. However, the service member should consider consulting with a military attorney because, depending on the sailor’s time in the Navy, how much the military has “invested” in the sailor, as well as many other factors, command may seek to discharge you from the Navy regardless of the NJP. If you need information for a local attorney familiar with military law and court-martials, we can provide you a referral. 

What if my court date and NJP are at the same time?

If the sailor is facing a court date during NJP, this date can often be moved or we can arrange with command to have the sailor transported to court during the NJP period. If the sailor cannot be transported or is overseas, Ryan can appear at the Arraignment and, in the sailor’s absence, request that the hearing be moved to a future date. The judges and prosecutors in Kitsap County are well-versed in the protocols of the Navy and how service members are managed when facing a criminal charge. Without a doubt, the fact that the sailor is being punished by command does carry weight with prosecutors. The NJP will not be substituted for civilian punishment but it is considered during negotiations. 

What if I want to wait and meet with Navy legal before handling my civilian criminal charge?

Be very careful about waiting because there are critical timelines that can pass. You can have your drivers license suspended through DOL or, worse, you may end up with a warrant if you do not appear for your scheduled court date.

It is reasonable and prudent to reach out to Navy legal to determine whether there could be consequences within the military, such as NJP, but do not substitute Navy legal for your civilian legal obligations.

This information is from the U.S. Navy JAG Corps website:

Q. Where do I go for help with criminal matters?

A. Navy legal assistance attorneys do not handle criminal matters, including adverse administrative issues such as Articles 15 and discharge actions. If you are a service member, please visit your local Defense Service Office. If you are a civilian, you will need to seek assistance from a private civilian attorney experienced in criminal law. Contact your local county bar association for a referral to a competent civilian attorney. 

I do not have much money so I will wait to talk with the civilian Public Defender. Can that create problems?

Public defense is usually free or very low cost for those who cannot afford a private criminal defense lawyer. That option can be helpful for those without funds. However, waiting to meet with your public defender can create additional problems. The reason this is a problem is that you must be assigned a public defender, which happens at Arraignment. Therefore, you do not have the benefit of legal advice until after your first appearance in court. 

What are examples of issues that might arise if I wait to be assigned a Public Defender?

(1) If you are being charged with a crime that involves a potential license suspension, you will not be provided a reminder about your Department of Licensing hearing request deadline. If 7 days has past, you have missed the deadline.


(2) Even if you request the DOL hearing in time, Public Defenders do not assist with this administrative hearing, which can suspend your driving privileges. You are on your own unless you hire a private lawyer.


(3) If you want to prevent a warrant while you are deployed or concerned about notice due to an out of state license, a public defender can not help you. Since they are not assigned until the case begins, any help you need prior to Arraignment must be provided by a private defense attorney.


(4) If you are deployed or have been relocated at the Arraignment date, a public defender can not step in for you and waive the Arraignment. Because you are not a client prior to Arraignment, the public defender would not have your orders or notice that you can not appear for court. In that case, you will likely have an arrest warrant issued by the judge until you appear to quash the warrant.

This is not an exhaustive list of the many things a private criminal defense attorney can assist with prior to Arraignment. Often, with legal counsel during the investigation phase, there are other problems that can be avoided. Every criminal case is unique so you have to discuss the facts of your case with a lawyer in the local area where you are being charged. 

Is it possible to make the criminal case “go away” so that I do not have to return to Washington?

While it is not common, there are situations in which we can either resolve the case in advance of Arraignment or, due to the nature of the crime, you can appear for your Arraignment via zoom. Additionally, in certain types of cases, we can work out a Compromise of Misdemeanor, which essentially makes the case “go away” by coordinating a deal with the victim. We have done this many times before the client even appeared in court for the initial Arraignment. Basically, while we are monitoring the case, we get notice that the case will be charged. Between notice of charging and the mailing of the Summons to appear, we work out a deal before the client ever goes to court. In that case, at Arraignment, we already have a resolution to the matter. This can not happen with a public defender because they are not assigned until after the Arraignment. 

How do I find an experienced civilian criminal defense lawyer?

Do not call lawyers who are not in the state where you are facing a criminal charge because they cannot give you advice. It is also best to call an attorney who is local to where your case is pending because each jurisdiction (city or county) has specific protocols and, in some cases, “therapeutic courts” or alternative resolutions for your type of case. For these reasons, the attorneys at Witt Law Group only advise potential clients who have a criminal matter in Kitsap, Pierce, or Thurston counties as well as the cities that lie within that area such as Bremerton, Poulsbo, Seabeck, Hansville, Rolling Bay, Port Orchard, Silverdale, Purdy, Kingston, Bangor, Bainbridge Island, Gig Harbor, Fox Island, Tacoma, Olympia, and Lacey.

If you or a loved one who is serving in the military in the Kitsap or Pierce county area and facing a criminal charge, please contact our office at (360) 792-1000. If you are unsure if you are being charged in Kitsap, Pierce, or Thurston counties or the cities in that area, you can contact our office for guidance on that issue.