Military personnel can face dire consequences if they refuse to or cannot report for duty. Depending upon the circumstances, service members can face three related charges if they fail to show up. Absence without official leave (AWOL), desertion and missing movement bring potentially severe penalties, including the death penalty in extreme cases.
Military members who are AWOL for 30 days could face desertion, while missing movement charges are typically brought when service members intentionally or neglectfully do not report to a ship before it leaves port. We’ll examine these charges in three parts, starting with AWOL.
Absent without official leave
Armed forces members can be AWOL under Article 86 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) if they fail to arrive at an appointed place or leave prematurely without permission. Sometimes, service members face charges for leaving their post a couple of hours early. The Manual for Courts-Martial lists several ways service members are considered AWOL:
- Failing to go to a place of duty: The accused was directed to show up for duty at a specific location and time but failed to do so.
- Leaving appointed place of duty: The accused reported for duty at the appointed time but left early without permission.
- Absence from unit, organization or place of duty: The accused excused themselves from their unit, organization or place of duty without authorization, and the absence was for a certain amount of time or until they were apprehended.
- Abandoning watch or guard: The accused was assigned a guard, watch or duty, but did not show up or left without authorization and intended to abandon their post.
Penalties for being AWOL are generally at the discretion of the commanding officer. They typically include confinement and reduced pay. The severity depends upon the length of time the service member was AWOL. If absent over 30 days, they can face a dishonorable discharge, one year in confinement and loss of all pay and allowances.
Defenses for AWOL charges
Many circumstances exist that can lead to being AWOL. It’s crucial to consult an experienced military defense attorney as soon as possible. Evidence often exists showing service members had legitimate reasons for not showing up for duty, such as an accident or a medical issue.
Military paperwork often contains errors over the time and place you were required to show up for duty. The government must prove that you disregarded orders when, in fact, the orders you received were incorrect. Your attorney can help disprove the government’s case, mitigate punishment and protect your military career. In our next post, we’ll take a deeper look at desertion charges.