Regardless of the severity of the charges against you, facing any military criminal review or punishment can end or jeopardize your military career. Your best course of action is to seek experienced legal advice to protect your future. Regardless of which branch of the armed forces you serve under, there are nine types of punishment outlined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ):
- Death sentence
- Punitive discharge
- Hard labor without confinement
- Reduction in grade
While you have the right to appeal a conviction, the best course of action is a vigorous defense of the charges or pursuing reduced penalties if you are guilty of the offense.
Military members can be charged with serious offenses that civilians face, such as murder, rape and assault. But other crimes are specific to the military, including desertion, AWOL or mutiny. The UCMJ’s 146 articles detail the crimes and penalties. It should not be surprising that most charges and punishments are related to minor offenses, roughly akin to misdemeanors in the civilian justice system.
The most common type of military discipline is non-judicial punishment (NJP). Commanders typically resolve these matters, which avoid formal courts-martial. The various military branches have different names for these proceedings:
- Marines call them “Office Hours”
- The Navy and Coast Guard refer to them as “Captain’s Mast”
- The Army and Air Force call them “Article 15”
All five branches follow similar procedures, but there are differences for issuing NJPs. The Army and Air Force require the highest level of proof, called “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The Navy and Marines, however, only need “clear and convincing evidence.” In most cases, NJP rulings do not create a criminal record and are usually removed from a service member’s military record after two years.
Experience matters in military criminal defense
Whether you face NJP proceedings or a court-martial, it can be crucial to consult with a knowledgeable military defense lawyer before responding to the charges or submitting to an interview. Under military rules, you have the right to a lawyer at any stage of the process, but the sooner, the better. Every criminal charge is serious and could drastically affect your career or life outside the military.