Uniform Code of Military Justice

Military personnel on active duty face unique duties, challenges, and opportunities as a result of their service. In addition to the many benefits of serving, the U.S. military has a separate system for investigating and prosecuting alleged criminal offenses, governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The UCMJ provides greater protections than the civilian system for servicemembers under investigation, but it also defines a different range of offenses. My experience as a United States Marine helps me understand the unique challenges of military service, and it helps me represent personnel in Washington state as a military criminal defense attorney.

Offenses under the UCMJ

The UCMJ generally applies to active-duty military personnel in the Uniformed Services. Many of the criminal offenses it defines are identical to those found in state and federal civilian criminal codes, such as robbery, driving under the influence, drug use, or fraudulent statements. The military justice system begins to differ significantly from other systems by defining offenses related directly to a servicemember’s duties. These include desertion; absence without leave; insubordination to a warrant, noncommissioned, or petty officer; disrespect to a superior commissioned officer; and failure to obey the order of a superior.

Investigations under the UCMJ

Servicemembers who are under investigation have more rights under the UCMJ than they might in civilian life. In the civilian criminal system, people may not even know that an investigation is occurring. Servicemembers have the right to present evidence in their defense during the investigation stage, to call their own witnesses, and to cross-examine witnesses summoned by prosecutors. If prosecutors conclude that formal charges are warranted, they may opt to bring a court-martial. Commanders may choose instead to pursue non-judicial punishment (NJP) for minor alleged offenses.

Non-Judicial Punishment under the UCMJ

NJP is a method for commanders to discipline personnel without the formality of a court-martial. While NJP is not a “conviction” in the criminal sense, it may go on a servicemember’s record. The accused servicemember must receive notice of a commander’s intent to pursue NJP, along with a statement of the evidence and a hearing date. In most cases, the servicemember can refuse NJP, in which case the commander must decide whether to pursue a court-martial. Typical punishments include loss of pay, duty restrictions or extra duties, or reduction in rank.

Courts-Martial under the UCMJ

Courts-martial are the formal trial proceedings established by the UCMJ. They are similar to civilian criminal bench or jury trials, with differences in procedure. A court-martial conviction is considered a criminal conviction by most civilian legal codes. The commanding officer who referred a matter for court-martial must review any conviction that results. The defendant may appeal convictions to appellate courts in each service branch, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Punishments may include imprisonment, bad conduct or dishonorable discharge, or dismissal of an officer.

If you have been charged with a military criminal offense in the Tacoma area, including Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Naval Base Kitsap, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help. I can advise you of your rights and options under the military criminal system, and I will vigorously defend you against the charges brought by the government. For more than 15 years, I have protected the rights of servicemembers in courts-martial and other proceedings. Contact us today online or at (888) 312-3093 for a free consultation.