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Marine admits to stealing car, driving drunk in Japan

U.S. Marines. (Giancarlo Mollicone/Marine Corps Air Station Miramar)
June 29, 2023

Lance Cpl. Helder Molina, 30, faces sentencing next month after he pled guilty to charges of drunken driving and auto theft in Yamaguchi District Court. 

Molina, who is currently stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, was arrested on April 2 after being stopped by Iwakuni Police. Molina reportedly got into a parked car that had the engine running. 

A fellow service member and the car’s owner attempted to stop him, but Molina drove away. During the hour he had possession of the car, he crashed into a wall and another vehicle. 

Molina had been frequenting local bars the night of the incident. According to Stars and Stripes, the prosecutor in the case is recommending a sentence of one and a half years with hard labor.

Molina’s attorney has asked the court to suspend his sentence in deference to the circumstances and Molina’s offer to take financial responsibility for damages caused.

Molina’s case marks a string of recent alcohol-related arrests of U.S. troops in Japan. In February,  Lance Cpl. Dominic Youngren was also arrested by Iwakuni Police for auto theft and drunken driving.

While Youngren received a 2-year suspended sentence following a guilty plea, he has reportedly paid $1,400 to the car dealership he stole a vehicle from and faces a 2-year hard labor sentence if he commits another crime within the next 4 years. 

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U.S. soldiers who are arrested while conducting duty overseas are not only liable for punishment from local law enforcement but internal military procedures. 

Air Station Iwakuni base spokesman Maj. Gerald Farao confirmed the Marine Corps considered internal actions against troops convicted of offenses.

“We take all allegations of wrongdoing seriously and expect all our service members to show respect to the local community,” Farao said, according to Stars and Stripes. 

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) states military members are subject to a military-only penalty code for numerous offenses conducted whether on or off duty as a member of the armed services.

Additionally, the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is an agreement between armed services and law enforcement in international stations. 

SOFA allows international law enforcement full rights to arrest, investigate, prosecute and sentence service members within local laws.