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What Is an Army Judge Advocate?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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An army judge advocate serves as a legal adviser to United States soldiers and the Secretary of the Army in times of war. The judge advocate works as a prosecutor or defense attorney for a soldier accused of a crime. An army judge advocate enters the military as an officer after earning a law degree and being admitted to the American Bar Association. When prosecuting a case or acting to protect a defendant’s rights, a judge advocate must follow the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

A judge advocate also assists the army in matters pertaining to contract law and labor law. He or she might also be asked to interpret international law and provide advice to military leaders and the administrative office. A judge advocate is eligible to work in federal, state, or military courts, but does not need a separate license in each state as an active duty officer.

Judge advocates in the military are considered the law firm of the U.S. government. A judge advocate general is a major general in the army, charged with supervising all other judge advocates in this branch of the military. The general is responsible for all legal matters that arise during his or her service, and might be called upon for advice by the Secretary of the Army.

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Court martial proceedings represent a common duty for an army judge advocate. These criminal trials share similarities with trials in federal courts, but carry a higher burden of proof to protect the defendant’s rights. An army judge advocate must ensure that a defendant who pleads guilty endured no coercion in making the decision. This precaution applies to soldiers because of the culture of strict obedience to authority in the military. In every court martial where a defendant faces a death sentence, a lengthy incarceration or discharge must be reviewed by an army judge advocate.

During wartime, judge advocates help identify military targets for destruction. They weigh the risk to civilian life against the importance of the target to the war effort. The judges define targets that must be preserved and develop rules of engagement regarding use of force that must be followed by U.S. soldiers. Military judges commonly travel to war zones to provide on-the-ground advice on soldier training and other legal strategies.

The Judge Advocate General's Corps was created in 1775 by President George Washington. Thousands of judges have served as military advisers in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines in times of war and peace. New judge advocates receive education in military law before they began prosecuting or defending soldiers in court.

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