Nonjudicial punishment (known in some branches as Article 15, NJP, or Captain’s Mast) is a way that the command can handle misconduct that is less serious than what would otherwise be handled in a court-martial.
A Court-Martial is a military criminal trial that is governed by military procedures, standards and rules. If you have been accused of serious misconduct, you may face a court-martial. However, not all types of alleged misconduct will necessarily result in a Court-Martial. Indeed, for alleged infractions that are less severe, service members may have the option to select a nonjudicial punishment (NJP) instead. To be clear: A nonjudicial punishment can still lead to some very serious consequences. Additionally, accepting a nonjudicial punishment will come at the expense of your right to a trial. This issue should never be taken lightly. Those who are considering accepting nonjudicial punishment should always consult with a UCMJ specialist before moving forward in the process so that they can be sure that their rights and interests are fully protected.
Nonjudicial Punishment By Service Branch
All branches of the United States military have their own processes for handling nonjudicial punishments. Further, nonjudicial punishment may be referred to by several different terms, including:
- Army and Air Force: Article 15
- Navy and Coast Guard: Captain’s Mast
- Marine Corps: Office Hours
Accepting a ‘Nonjudicial Punishment’ is Your Choice
Any military service member who has been accused of misconduct or a minor infraction has the legal right to go before a judge. You do not have to accept a nonjudicial punishment. If you would like to do so, you may have a trial instead. Once you choose to accept a nonjudicial punishment, your rights will change. By accepting a nonjudicial punishment, you will be waiving your right to go before a judge. Of course, this does not mean that you should not necessarily decline a nonjudicial punishment. Quite the contrary, in most cases, accepting a nonjudicial punishment is in your best interests. However, it is still important for you to recognize the full implications of accepting the punishment. You will be giving up process rights. More specifically, if you choose a nonjudicial punishment, you will:
- Give up your right to have a trial by courts martial; and
- Allow your commander to act as the judge and the jury in your case.
Should You Choose a Nonjudicial Punishment?
This question cannot be answered in such broad terms. While many service members should accept a nonjudicial punishment, that is not always the case. In fact, in some limited cases, it may be better to go before a court martial. Ultimately, the decision as to whether or not you should consent to a nonjudicial punishment, and thus forgo your right to a trial, is extremely complicated. Making the best decision will require a comprehensive review of the unique circumstances of your individual case. Most, but not all military service members, are allowed to consult with an attorney before making a decision over whether or not they will choose to accept a nonjudicial punishment. If the option to consult with a private attorney is available to you, it is strongly in your best interests to utilize that option. After reviewing your individual case, your attorney will be able to give you proper guidance.
Accepting a Nonjudicial Punishment Is Not the Same Thing as Pleading Guilty
Once you make the decision to accept a nonjudicial punishment, that does not mean that you have pled guilty to the allegations against you. Taking a nonjudicial punishment is simply choosing a different process. You are choosing the nonjudicial punishment process over the traditional Court-Martial process. Even after accepting the nonjudicial punishment, you will still have an opportunity to defend yourself against the specific allegations that have been brought against you. Additionally, you should have the chance to present exonerating evidence.
Most Service Members Have Access to a Spokesperson
If you are a service member facing a nonjudicial punishment, you generally will not have the normal right to be represented by an attorney. However, in the majority of cases, military NJP regulations do allow service members to be ‘assisted’ by a ‘spokesperson’ during their nonjudicial punishment hearing. Your nonjudicial punishment spokesperson will be able to help you in many different ways. For example, you spokesperson can assist you by:
- Providing you with legal advice and counseling;
- Helping you with complex aspects of case preparation;
- Getting you ready for the presentation during the hearing itself;
- Reviewing the available evidence pertaining to your case;
- Conducting an investigation on your behalf to seek more evidence, including reaching out to witnesses;
- Assessing your defense options based on the strength of your case and the charges against you; and
- Offering you guidance as to whether or not you should plead guilty to the allegations or, alternatively, if you should aggressively defend the charges against you.
You need the right spokesperson by your side. You should look to hire a spokesperson who is a UCMJ attorney who has prior experience handling nonjudicial punishment cases.
Nonjudicial Punishment: Possible Penalties
While the option to take a nonjudicial punishment is generally reserved for cases involving allegations of minor or moderate misconduct, this type of proceeding can still lead to harsh consequences. Please do not be fooled into thinking that a nonjudicial punishment is not a serious issue. Some of the specific consequences that you may face as a result of your nonjudicial punishment hearing may include:
- Time spent in correctional custody;
- Restrictions on your benefits;
- Extra duties;
- Loss of pay;
- Reduction of grade; and
- Official reprimand or admonition.
Beyond impacting your life in the moment, these punishments can also adversely impact your long-term military career and benefits. The bottom line is simple: If you have been accused of misconduct, you need to take action to protect your legal rights and professional interests.
Contact Our Office Today
At the Law Office of Jocelyn C. Stewart, we work exclusively on military cases. Our team has extensive experience handling a wide variety of military administrative matters, including nonjudicial punishment cases. If you are in need of assistance, we are ready to step in to protect your rights interests. To learn more about how we can help you, please do not hesitate to reach out to us today at 1-888-252-0927 to set a consultation. From our offices in Anchorage, Alaska and Tacoma, Washington, we represent in all branches of the service.