United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

DoD News

Bookmark and Share

 News Article

A Matter of Communication, Jurisdiction

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 11, 2000 – When a soldier murdered his live-in girlfriend last year at their residence outside a military base, civilian authorities blamed the military for failing to protect the woman.

Military authorities claimed they had been unaware of the couple's violent history until it was too late.

The case made national headlines. It also exemplified many of the issues military officials encounter in dealing with domestic violence.

The military has no legal jurisdiction over service members' unmarried partners -- or spouses, for that matter, according to senior defense officials here. The military can provide medical care and counseling to military spouses, but not to unmarried partners. Unmarried victims must turn to the local civilian community for help.

In the murder case, defense officials said, the military had no jurisdiction over the civilian woman who was killed. There had been a history of domestic violence, but it wasn't shared with the military until the situation reached a crisis. Civilian authorities called base officials when a local court issued a no-contact order.

At that point, the commander issued a no-contact order, delivered it to the soldier and restricted him to base. But since it was an open base, the soldier drove off post and killed his girlfriend. Defense officials said the case highlighted the need for better communication between military and civilian authorities.

When domestic violence occurs within military families living off base, local law enforcement officials respond. "The jurisdiction over our installations varies from solely federal jurisdiction to shared federal-state jurisdiction, to solely state jurisdiction in terms of these types of crimes," said David Lloyd, director of DoD's Family Advocacy Program.

In some areas, civilian and military authorities routinely keep each other informed. In others, they don't. Often, local authorities handle domestic violence differently from one jurisdiction to the next.

Typically in domestic cases, Lloyd said, the degree of violence escalates over time. The severity of an incident can range from a shouting match, pushing and shoving, to brutal beatings. Some law enforcement agencies, he said, "diminish the importance of these less severe cases without recognizing that the victim could eventually be at serious risk of life or limb."

These incidents should be treated like any other threatened felony, he stressed. Law enforcers "need to arrest the suspect and move to prosecute fairly vigorously," he insisted.

Military authorities at some installations have set up memorandums of understanding with local police, family courts, shelters and other civilian agencies. These agreements cover procedures for sharing information about reported incidents and such legal actions as restraining orders.

Unfortunately, Lloyd said, establishing such working relationships is not always simple. In some instances, military personnel live in several jurisdictions in more than one state.

"It's very difficult for the military installation to have uniform procedures when County A handles it one way and County B handles it a different way," he said. "We could have service members who live off the installation who feel they've been treated very differently from a person in the same unit who just happens to live in a different county."

The San Diego area is an example, Lloyd said. "San Diego County takes a very vigorous approach, including mandatory arrest of the abuser. An adjoining county to the north uses a more discretionary approach as to whether to prosecute cases or not and how vigorous they will be. We have Navy and Marine Corps families who live in both counties."

Some county sheriffs, Lloyd said, simply counsel an abuser and victim and then leave. The victim's then at risk from someone who now may be very angry because the police have been called in. In another county, several miles away, he said, authorities might have take one look at the situation and immediately arrest the abuser.

"We'd love to have one approach so that we could tell service members and family members assigned to a base, 'This is how we handle domestic violence. Whether you live on the base or off post, this is how it's going to be handled,'" Lloyd said. "Instead, we have different approaches based on each counties' view. We can't force communities to do things a certain way."

Domestic violence at military bases overseas is another challenge, Lloyd noted. Some nations don't take domestic violence seriously, yet they have the authority to intervene, investigate and prosecute.

The lack of uniform enforcement makes it easy for both service members and their spouse victims to feel their treatment at the hands of the "system" was, is or will be unfair, he said.

Military police respond to domestic violence incidents on base, and generally, they're sensitive to the issues involved, Lloyd said. The Army trains military police investigators at the Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., MP school, for example, on how to handle domestic violence.

Military commanders can issue a military protection order similar to the no-contact order a civilian judge would issue, he noted. It does not require civilian police to have arrested an alleged offender. The order is only good on the installation, however, and not off base.

"The commander can actually order the service member to move into government barracks," Lloyd said. "No telephone contact. No writing. No using friends or relatives to intimidate the victim." Violating a military protection order equates to disobeying a lawful order, which is a disciplinary offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Victims' advocates aggressively pursue military protection orders even when a court order is being sought, Lloyd said. "The civilian order can be enforced from state to state and the military order can be enforced on base." Difficulties arise, however, when people are reassigned.

"One of the jobs for family advocacy is to make sure the new installation knows that there was a protection order and the new commander should issue a protection order as well," he concluded.

Visit the DoD "Domestic Violence: DoD's Next Frontline" web site at www.defenselink.mil/specials/domesticviolence/.

Contact Author

Additional Links

Stay Connected