If you commit a crime while you are in the military, you are tried in a military court. The military court uses the Uniform Code of Military Justice as a reference for determining the discipline that can be assigned for crimes committed. The UCMJ also details the process and protections for armed forces members, such as how to appeal a court-martial conviction.
The UCMJ Criminal Code includes civilian crimes such as assault, murder, and robbery. It also contains crimes specific to the military such as insubordination an AWOL. The President has the ultimate authority to make the rules for implementing the Code, known as the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM).
What are the Rights of Service Members Under the UCMJ?
As a service member being processed for court-martial, you have the following rights:
- The right to secure a civilian defense attorney (at your own expense)
- A military defense attorney provided at no charge
- The right to have an attorney present when answering questions — and the right not to answer any questions if your attorney is not present
- You have the right to a fair trial
- You cannot be subject to search and seizure unless there is probable cause
Article 15 — Non-Judicial Punishment
Article 15 is the most common discipline used by the military under the UCMJ. Your commander may impose Article 15 in cases where a formal criminal proceeding is not necessary. If you are given an Article 15 you will not have a criminal record and many times the charge will be removed from your military records permanently.
Do I Have to Accept the Imposition of Article 15?
You do have the right to accept or refuse an Article 15 imposition. Consult with a military defense attorney (civilian or government-provided) before making that decision. You do have the right to provide your commander with evidence, and if you are found to be guilty, you have the right to call character witnesses to lessen any punishment given.
Can I Bypass Article 15?
You can rightfully refuse to go through the Article 15 process and instead ask for a trial by court-martial. This gives you additional procedural rights but can be more costly because it can end up getting you a worse punishment and possibly a permanent criminal record.
Appealing an Article 15
You can appeal an Article 15 to the next level of command to possibly get your punishment reduced or eliminated, or it just may stay as it was given. If you still do not feel your case was handled to your satisfaction, you can appeal to the next military court level, the Board of Correction for Military Records.
During this whole process, you, as a member of the armed services, have the right to a military defense attorney, usually provided to you at no cost. You also have the right to hire a civilian-military criminal defense attorney in Quantico, VA, such as one from The Federal Practice Group, to work on your behalf. You will still have access to the free military attorney and have the work together on your defense.