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The Judge Advocate General Corps, colloquially known as the Navy JAG, serves as the legal department of the United States Navy. Navy JAG Corps personnel, of whom there are roughly 1,500, serve in various capacities under the Judge Advocate General of the Navy. Judge Advocates and other JAG staff deal with a variety of legal issues that arise involving the Navy and naval personnel, either criminal, civil, or military in nature.
The U.S. Navy has had a legal arm since the time of the Civil War in the 1860s, but the Navy JAG Corps was not officially established until 1967. It was created that year through legislation passed by Congress that was signed by President Lyndon Johnson. The law, among other things, provided that Navy lawyers would be treated as officers, like naval doctors.
Enlisted personnel and officers receive JAG training at the Naval Justice School, which has several campuses across the United States. In addition to Naval staff, the school also trains Marine and Coast Guard personnel. Each student is taught military justice, as well as civil law. Both attorneys and the Navy JAG equivalent of paralegals, known as legalmen, must graduate from Naval Justice School in order to serve in any legal capacity in the JAG Corps.
Navy JAG attorneys are available for use by sailors in a variety of different circumstances. Services range from helping write a will, to acting as defense counsel in a court martial, to representation during complaints about superior officers. When acting as defense counsel, JAG attorneys represent their clients first, and not the Navy. Familiar practices, such as client-attorney privilege, are practiced by JAG lawyers, but there are some unique aspects to military justice, most notably the court martial.
Court martials are the military version of criminal trials. In the U.S., these are presided over by a military judge and follow rules and procedures laid out by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Depending on the severity of the crime, the accused may appear before a judge, with or without a jury present. Military juries are called a panel of members, and consist only of military personnel.
The work of Navy JAG units has been popularized in a number of ways. The film A Few Good Men is a military courtroom drama starring Tom Cruise as a JAG attorney who defends U.S. Marines who are accused of murder while stationed at Guantanamo Bay. The long-running American television show, eponymously titled JAG, was a procedural drama following the exploits of attorneys and legalmen in the Navy JAG corps.
I know some Navy JAGs (and military JAGs in general), who attended law school and entered the military with a law degree. They still have to attend the military schools of justice, but I don't know if they have to go through the entire courses. I think they may just have to take the courses pertaining to military law. But I could be wrong.
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