Article 15 / Nonjudicial Punishment
WHAT IS ARTICLE 15 / NONJUDICIAL PUNISHMENT (NJP)?
Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) authorizes commanders to impose "Non-Judicial punishment" (NJP) for "minor" misconduct, such as petty theft, using marijuana, or showing up late for watch. The services use different terms for NJP, including "Article 15," "Office Hours," or "Captain's Mast."
WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS AT ARTICLE 15 / NJP
At NJP, the commander acts as prosecutor, defense counsel, judge and jury. For this reason, and unless you're embarked on a vessel, you have the right to refuse NJP and request a court martial instead. If you accept NJP, you have the right to a personal appearance before the commander, the right to remain silent, the right to be accompanied by a spokesperson, the right to be informed of the evidence against you, the right to examine that evidence, and the right to present matters on your own behalf.
WHAT ARE ARTICLE 15 / NJP HEARINGS LIKE?
NJP hearings are usually formal and speedy. You will usually be in dress uniform and report to a formal location where your commander and your chain of will be waiting. The commander will read from a script that has you reporting and outlines the evidence against you. Sometimes witnesses will be called and you'll then have the opportunity to speak. The commander will then announce his or her finding and impose a sentence. If you receive a sentence, it will begin immediately.
WHAT KIND OF PUNISHMENTS MIGHT I RECEIVE AT NJP?
The punishments meted out for an NJP offense depend upon the rank of the accused and the rank of the commander imposing it but generally are limited to restriction to certain specified limits, arrest in quarters, correctional custody, extra duties, forfeiture of pay, detention of pay and reduction in grade. Administrative separation from the service may follow NJP but is not a punishment awarded at NJP.
The accused may appeal NJP to the commanders higher authority. This must be done in a timely manner and be based upon grounds that the NJP was either unjust or disproportionate to the offense. If done properly, NJP appeals offer a real chance of having a conviction overturned or a sentence lessened.
SHOULD I HIRE AN EXPERIENCED MILITARY LAWYER TO ASSIST ME WITH NJP OR TO APPEAL NJP?
You will likely be informed that you have the right to discuss the NJP with an attorney before accepting NJP and you should CERTAINLY do so. Your base legal office will have uniformed attorneys available to discuss the case with you. However, many of these offices have a policy preventing these attorneys from helping you decide whether you should accept NJP or refuse and request a court martial, limiting them to simply explaining your NJP rights to you.
But you need more than that. Many times, NJP is offered because the evidence against you is not good enough to result in a court martial conviction. Instead, the commander decides to send the case to NJP because the rules of evidence that would help you at a court martial, don't apply at NJP. This is especially true when the charges involve drug offenses.
Therefore, you need a lawyer who can help you understand not only what will happen if you accept NJP, but what will happen if you refuse NJP. If your local base legal office can't help you with this, an experienced civilian military attorney can assist you with this decision for little cost.
You should also seek out legal advice for your NJP appeal package. These packages should never be overlooked or simply "cut and pasted." Commands may skip procedural steps, rely upon flimsy evidence, or impose an unlawful sentence, all factors that might result in your NJP being overturned. Having an experienced military attorney help you with your package could make a world of difference. Considering that NJP may "kill" your career or even result in the service processing you for early separation, you should ensure that you do everything to protect yourself.
At King Military Law, we have decades of experience in dealing with NJPs at all levels, from defending servicemembers at NJP, to advising commanders on NJP procedures, to filing appeals and even acting as the appellate officer's legal advisor. We're available to you 24/7. Please give us a call for a free consultation if you think we can help.
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