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Building a Defense Against AWOL Charges

By Joseph Low on April 21, 2020

soldier with American flag in the background

Being a member of any branch of the US Armed Forces elevates you to a level above the average citizen in terms of patriotism and dedication to the nation and your fellow men and women. You are given the training, responsibility, and opportunity to be of great service, but a career in the military comes with hefty duty and a requirement to toe the line. Unfortunately, if you find yourself on the wrong side of military law, you may be facing serious problems – especially in cases of desertion or going AWOL.

Attorney Joseph H. Low IV is an ex-marine who has dedicated his career to defending military servicemen and women from unfair and unjust prosecution, as well as from the occasional mistake that gets blown out of proportion.

How is AWOL Defined?

AWOL is defined as being “absent without official leave,” and is covered under Article 86 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice which states:

“Any member of the armed forces who, without authority:

(1) fails to go to their appointed place of duty at the time prescribed;

(2) goes from that place; or

(3) absents themself or remains absent from their unit, organization, or place of duty at which they are required to be at the time prescribed; shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

Being AWOL is a less severe crime than desertion, which typically involves a prolonged absence and an intention to remain away from all military duties and requirements.

Legal Defenses for AWOL Charges

If you are facing AWOL charges, there are several legal defenses you can employ to clear your name or mitigate any penalties you may be facing:

  • Actual knowledge: For the crime to have been committed, you must have known where you were supposed to be and when. If, for example, your unit had orders to report at 0700 on the 2nd of March, but your documentation said the 10th of March, you cannot be accused of going AWOL when you fail to appear on the 2nd.
  • Inability to return or appear: If your circumstances that are not your fault prevented you from arriving at the designated location, or from returning from an authorized leave, you might have a legitimate defense against the charges.
  • Orders: Per Article 89, you can only be considered AWOL if you left or failed to return without authority. If you can demonstrate through testimony or written evidence that you had orders to do otherwise, you have a strong defense case.

Intent is not an actual part of the crime, but if it can be demonstrated that your absence was a mistake and you had no intention of shirking your duties, it may help mitigate the charges and any aggravating factors.

Penalties for AWOL Charges

Building a defense for AWOL charges is critical, as the penalties can affect both your military career and civilian life. For short or minor absences, you face up to one-month confinement and a loss of two-thirds of your pay for a month. For longer absences or absences from critical posts, you face up to eighteen months of confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a dishonorable discharge.

Facing AWOL Charges? We Can Help

At the Law Offices of Joseph H. Low IV, our legal team specializes in all forms of military criminal defense. We represent individuals in all branches of the military, and we have the experience and detailed knowledge of the military justice system needed to craft a comprehensive and persuasive defense on your behalf. We will strive to achieve the best possible outcome for your case, and make sure your voice, and your side of the story is heard.

Posted in: Military Defense

"Joseph, Thank you for your assistance. Your understanding compassion & incredible expertise are admired & appreciated. I will be referring any of my clients who require legal help to you."
- M.D.