If you are a military member who faces a legal issue, you may not need to hire a lawyer at your own expense. Depending on the type of issue, there may be attorneys associated with the military, or with other non-profit organizations, available to help you.
Before getting into the details of when you should seek out military legal assistance and when not, it is first necessary to look at the difference between civil and criminal cases.
Civil cases are private matters, which typically involve one person suing another for a money award or a court order to make the other party do (or stop doing) a particular act.
Criminal cases involve wrongs against the public. Although a criminal defendant may have injured only one victim, any violation of criminal law harms society. Criminal cases are always started by the government. While victims of crimes may be consulted, they have no power to make a prosecutor bring charges or to prevent the prosecutor from dropping charges. A convicted defendant may be ordered to pay a fine, or may be sentenced to probation, community service, jail, prison, or even death.
For more information on the differences between civil and criminal cases when working with military legal assistance attorneys, the following sections should provide you some guidance: