Rutgers Law alumnus and Rear Admiral William Dwyer ‘04 was selected to be the first chief prosecutor of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), a new senior position with considerable influence on the practice of military justice.
This new position was created upon the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in 2022, which represented a significant step toward military justice reform. Under this new law, each branch of the military is equipped with a chief prosecutor to oversee a team of attorneys called the special trial counsel. Outside the chain of command, these attorneys not only try cases against military personnel, but they’re also tasked with reviewing evidence and investigations, and deciding whether service members should be prosecuted for serious offenses such as sexual assault and other victim-based crimes. Previously, the decision to move forward with a trial fell to the commanding officer. This new system takes this decision outside the chain of command, with the goal of rooting out bias and corruption, and injecting an independent legal voice into the proceedings. Dwyer will begin staffing his new office in Charleston, South Carolina this summer. He will oversee roughly 60 personnel when his team is fully operational.
After graduating from the United States Coast Guard Academy in 1995, Dwyer served aboard two ships in Guam and Hawaii and attended Navy Dive School, but soon decided to attend law school. “As a Bridgewater, New Jersey native, I knew Rutgers well and appreciated its great reputation in and out of the state,” he says. “I enjoyed the study of national security law, which was an area of focus for much of my career, and knew that becoming an attorney would help me take the next step.” He accepted a position at a private law firm, but was called back to service during Hurricane Katrina and Operation Iraqi Freedom—twice—and ultimately returned to the Coast Guard full time. Dwyer also holds degrees from the Army War College and Naval Postgraduate School.
Dwyer’s illustrious career in the Coast Guard spans decades and continents. He held legal positions in Alaska, Germany, and Hawaii, where he advised Coast Guard commanders on topics like operations, anti-piracy, maritime security, military justice, and international law. He has led US military legal engagements in over 25 countries to advance rule of law and national security objectives. Previously, he served as a Deputy Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) for US Pacific Command in Camp Smith, Hawaii, where he advised on a variety of operational issues involving the South China Sea and North Korea. He then served as SJA for US Southern Command in Doral, Florida, where he was the principal legal advisor to the Geographic Combatant Commander. His most recent position was the Chief of Maritime and Operational Law for the Coast Guard. He oversaw a talented team of JAGs and civilian attorneys enabling USCG operations around the globe.
One of the most significant lessons Dwyer will bring to his new role is one that has served him well throughout his career. “I learned from my professors at Rutgers how to be a critical thinker,” he says. “To see how the facts fall within the law is one thing, but we also want to provide the space for decisions to be made. What can be done is often different from what should be done, and it’s our job to present a span of options as well as what risks are involved. Many professors at Rutgers Law helped us think differently about problems, and that’s been very important to my work.”