Non-Judicial Punishment (Article 15)
Military Misconduct? Facing an Article 15 / Non-Judicial Punishment?
When a servicemember is accused of misconduct or some minor infraction, a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), they might then face a Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP). Depending upon your branch, a Non-Judicial Punishment is referred to as an Article 15 in the Army or Air Force; a Captain’s Mast in the Navy or Coast Guard; or “Office Hours” in the Marine Corps. A Non-Judicial Punishment process enables a commander to administer punishment for misconduct or minor offenses that do not rise to the level to be adjudicated in a court setting.
Should you choose to accept the Non-Judicial Punishment;
- You will no longer have the right to a trial by Courts Martial.
- If you choose to accept the NJP, you essentially allow your commander to act as judge and jury over your non-judicial punishment case.
Whether you choose to accept or reject the NJP and request a formal Courts Martial will require you or your attorney to gather facts, evidence, supportive statements, and witnesses; then to get prepared to present your case.
Your Right to Counsel
For all NJP, Air Force personnel have an absolute right to consult with a defense counsel (including a civilian lawyer at their own expense) prior to determining whether to accept NJP proceedings or demand trial by court-martial. Army personnel have the right to consult with a defense counsel (including a civilian lawyer at their own expense), except when the commander is utilizing a Summarized NJP Proceeding. Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard personnel do not have a right to consult with counsel prior to NJP. That said, a preponderance of commanders from various Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard posts DO encourage consultation with counsel, if time delays and other considerations are not unduly affected.
Most Servicepersons are allowed to receive Private Legal Advice & Coaching
Though you will not have the right for an attorney to represent you if you accept the NJP, you usually have every right to seek legal advice, and have a private military lawyer assist you with case preparation and coach you for your upcoming presentation. For most servicemembers, you will find yourself caught up in a new and stressful matter that is foreign territory for you as a busy and otherwise-occupied soldier. A private military attorney can review the evidence which supports the NJP, conduct an investigation, and contact any witnesses. He can then advise you as to what your options are based on the strength of your possible defense case. If you accept the non-judicial punishment and either argue your innocence or “plead guilty,” your lawyer can help you in case preparation and coach you or a spokesperson on case presentation. You may choose to have another servicemember, such as a superior or commander to be a spokesperson on your behalf. If you reject the NJP and seek a Courts Martial your private lawyer will already have a good start on your defense case. Anyone choosing to proceed to a Courts Martial will, for sure, want to seek more experienced legal counsel that what may be detailed to your case.
Non-Judicial Punishment – Possible Penalties
Non-Judicial Punishment penalties depend the rank of the accused and on the rank of the individual imposing the NJP punishment. Typical NJP penalties might include reduction in rank, some forfeiture of pay, and possibly restriction.
Is Your NJP more about Politics and Egos than “Misconduct?”
Our clients are soldiers — warriors…
Sometimes NJP charges are not about misconduct or infractions at all – but are about internal battles and calculating strategies amongst competing type-a warriors advancing their own careers and power base.
Your situation might be more about complex, internal politics and maneuvering. Couple the macro pressures including Afghanistan drawdowns, the ballooning U.S. deficit, and pentagon cutbacks for all branches vs. micro pressures on servicepersons including competition for general advancement, specific advancements and potential orders to future budget-surviving posts and slots, and their is plenty of motive. Competition is always fierce during cycles of downsizing. When your career is on the line, or under attack by some cleverly-crafted accusations engineered to thin you from the competition, the best tactical move might be to reject an NJP. Before you must even make that decision however, simply bringing in a heavy-hitter — a well-known civilian military defense lawyer — might be all that is required to immediately tip the scales in your favor.
An Aggressive Response might put an END to this Non-Judicial Punishment Challenge
An aggressive defensive stance might get your accuser to quietly back off. Bringing in a Former U.S. Attorney, Supervisor of JAG departments, & Former Federal Prosecutor makes even honest and legitimate accusers (holding four honestly-dealt Aces) become nervous . On the flip side, if your accuser’s case is about politics, and self-serving manipulation (having few if any face cards in his or her hand), a well-known, well-respected lawyer making a few subtle inquiries will put your accuser on notice that a huge spotlight is about to expose the “real story.” Many “real stories” are about personal agendas, pettiness, deceit and self-interest which, when exposed, will be embarrassing to the accuser and even more embarrassing and contradictory to the high ethical standards of the Armed Forces.
Working with an experienced former JAG Lawyer, you can access what’s really going on, and devise the best possible strategy to get the results you need and protect or even advance your career. Remember, your rejection of an NJP does not mean that your command has to, or will, proceed with a Courts Martial. That decision is at the sole discretion of the commander. An aggressive defense may telegraph a message to those who need to hear it and shut down this matter without involving the command with all the details nor any career-damaging blemishes to your jacket. Choosing to take a passive approach, “let the system do what the system will do,” may commit you to a long and stressful battle that might not end well.