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Representing the Military Client

By: Amelia Lolli, Esquire

Burlington County New Jersey is home to Joint Base MDL (JBMDL), which employs approximately 42,000 soldiers between the three bases (McGuire, Ft. Dix and Lakehurst).  Approximately 60,000 military retirees live within a 50 mile radius of JBMDL.  With such a dense population of active military and retirees, there is a good opportunity an attorney in the Central/Southern New Jersey region will represent current/former military personnel during the course of their legal career.  As an attorney, and also as the military member, individuals should be aware of several special considerations when it comes to providing or seeking legal counsel.

Regarding issues of taxation for active service military, the IRS publishes the “Armed Forces Tax Guide.”  (www.irs.gov/publications/p3/ar02.html). This guide provides useful information for members of the military relative to different types of pay and allowances included and/or excluded from gross income, items subject to tax, items excluded from tax, exclusions while serving in a combat zone and other tax benefits for “combat zone participants.”  The guide also provides useful tax information related to the sale of a home, foreclosures, educational expenses, moving expenses (which occur often for active military personnel) and the extension of deadlines/deferral for the payment of income tax.  As a legal practitioner servicing the military community or as military personnel, it is important to be aware of the provisions made by the IRS in the Armed Forces Tax Guide as there are many favorable regulations available.

If a criminal issue occurs, it is important to remember the military has its own justice system which is mandated by Congress and recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Criminal cases are tried by a “Courts-martial” which is a temporary tribunal convened to hear a specific case by a commander.  Unlike civilian cases, the location of the offense does not determine the venue of the hearing.  Further, it must be noted jurisdiction of the court-martial is over military offenses.  If a military person commits a crime that violates both the military and civilian code, the person can be tried in both courts for the same offense leading to potentially being punished by both jurisdictions for the same offense. For crimes that occur on base, the service member will be subject to court martial only.

When a service member is deployed, they often leave behind their family, home, various financial obligations and sometimes, if a reservist, a career.  Many individuals incur financial issues while on active duty that can be alleviated if they are aware of the provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The SCRA is available to all active duty servicemembers, reservists and National Guard members called to active duty. The SCRA limits the amount of interest that can be charged for “obligations or liabilities incurred before your entry into military service,” including credit card debt.  It also protects servicemembers and their families from eviction while on active duty for rents below a certain amount which is adjusted on a regular basis.  Military personnel who enter into a lease for housing are permitted to terminate said lease if they are deployed to another location for more than 90 days.  Cell phone contracts are also subject to termination, under similar terms, as long as the new location does not support the servicemembers current cell phone carrier.  The SCRA also provides for termination of a motor vehicle lease if you are deployed, subject to specific terms, over 180 days. 

As always, if you have questions about your rights, contact an attorney to guide you through the process.

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