Nonjudicial Punishment Lawyer in Hawaii

Understating Your Rights and Nonjudicial Punishment

Nonjudicial punishment (NJP) is a form of punishment authorized by Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  Article 15 authorizes commanders to impose limited amounts of punishment on Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen for minor UCMJ offenses without the need for a court-martial or criminal trial. The benefit to the command is disposing of minor offenses swiftly. The benefit to the accused service member is less exposure to punishment and avoiding a criminal conviction. NJP can be given to both enlisted and officer service members.

NJP punishment depends upon the rank of the commander imposing the NJP and the military status and rank of the accused.  The officer imposing the NJP can “suspend” the punishment for a certain period of time to allow the service member to prove his rehabilitation.  If the service member performs well and does not get in trouble during the suspension period, the suspended punishment will not be imposed.

Possible punishment at NJP can include:

  • Reduction in rank (enlisted only)
  • Forfeiture of pay
  • Extra duty (enlisted only)
  • Restriction to certain limits (such as the unit area)
  • Correctional custody for a limited period (enlisted only)
  • Arrest in quarters (officers only)

What is considered a “minor” offense is often up to the discretion of your commanding officer and the service regulations that apply to your branch of military service.

NJP in Different Branches of the Military

While all nonjudicial punishment is subject to the limitations in Article 15, UCMJ, there are a few differences among the military services due to differing service regulations and customs. Generally speaking, the rules and procedures are mostly the same for everyone in the military.

Army and Air Force

In both the Army and the Air Force, NJP is generally referred to as “Article 15”.

Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard

In the Navy and Coast Guard, NJP is commonly called “Captain’s Mast” or “Admiral’s Mast.” In the Marine Corps, this process is more often called “Office Hours.”

The Nonjudicial Punishment Process

Your commander will inform you of his or her intent to impose NJP. You should be given a copy of the NJP form, and hopefully the supporting evidence, which will include the UCMJ charges alleged. Your commander will give you a very limited amount of time to consider whether to accept the NJP action, typically as little as 48 hours.  You should use this time to immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney for advice. You can always ask your commander for more time to consult with an attorney, if necessary, but your commander does not have to grant the extension of time.

Following this short period of time to seek legal advice and decide what to do, your commander will ask you whether you want to accept the NJP proceeding. Accepting the NJP proceeding does not mean that you are agreeing that the charges are true.  Instead, accepting the NJP proceeding means that you agree to allow your commander to decide whether you are guilty of the offenses and impose punishment if you are found guilty. If you tell your commander you are not guilty, your commander will have to weigh the evidence, including any evidence you submit, and decide whether you are guilty or not.

With one limited exception, you always have the right to “turn down” the NJP and demand trial by court-martial. The one exception is for service members who are attached to or embarked in a vessel (usually applicable to Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen only). If you demand trial by court-martial, your commander will then have to decide whether he wants to send the charges to a court-martial. If the charges are sent to court-martial, you will face increased potential punishments and possible criminal conviction.

While there are times when you should demand trial by court-martial, you should never do so without first consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney with knowledge about NJP and the military justice system. NJP can have serious consequences to your military career, but a court-martial conviction is much worse and will follow you for the rest of your life.

Whether you intent to accept the NJP or demand trial by court-martial, you should seek the advice and representation of an experienced criminal defense attorney with knowledge of the military justice system.  An experienced attorney can help you present your side of the case to your commanding officer if you decide to accept the NJP proceedings. The attorney will guide you in the best way to avoid findings of guilt or mitigate the punishment imposed. The attorney can also help you appeal your commander’s decision to the next higher commander.

Put the Appeal in Writing

If you’ve been wrongfully found guilty and punished by your commanding officer by NJP, you can appeal your nonjudicial punishment. You’ll have to appeal the decision quickly. Sometimes this can be in as little as five days after the punishment has been imposed. The Appeal will have to be in writing and based upon evidence that refutes the findings and punishment.  An experienced attorney can provide you with invaluable assistance in drafting and submitting your written appeal.

Find a Lawyer You Can Trust

An attorney with expertise in defending military matters can help you understand your rights and the strength of your case based upon the evidence. The attorney can help you assemble and present your evidence to your commander to establish your innocence. If you are found guilty at NJP, the attorney can help you draft and submit your appeal. If you are considering demanding a trial by court-martial, you should definitely retain an attorney to assist you throughout this difficult process.

Contact us today for a consultation if you need any assistance with your NJP proceeding or appeal.