The Uniform Code of Military Justice and Non-Judicial Punishment Systems


The essay includes an analysis of the basic and major positions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP) systems. The UCMJ defines the military justice system in the list of navy regulation. The NJP is a system of military justice approved by the Article 15 of the UCMJ. The paper discusses some additional explanations concerning viability and desirability for each proposed system of justice. Further analysis shows the main differences and allows one to give description of the types of maximum court martial punishments and the types of discharges for each justice system. Unfortunately, the system of justice is not perfect, but neither is any another civilian justice system. In general, the UCMJ is acknowledged as the discipline of operating effectiveness and the obligatory fundamental principle of justice.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice and Non-Judicial Punishment Systems

The UCMJ administrates the armed forces. On May 31, 1951, President Truman legislated the UCMJ system, thus bringing all armed facilities under a united justice system. This system is of profound significance to all Armed Forces members. Its articles explain the legal duties of the armed facility members and shape the legal necessities. The UCMJ was edited, and all of the modifications have been considered to provide even better security of individual rights of each military member compared to the original version of UCMJ code. These earlier systems of military justice were occasionally modified to improve efficiency, to respond to criticisms or to meet changes in the insight concerning the requirements of duty process. However, the changes that had been made before 1950 were a tool of appreciation rather than a system of criminal justice, the principal function of which was the implementation of punishment in the Armed Forces.

The purpose of the UCMJ is to afford a uniform application of protection and to guarantee defense in the justice system for all Armed Forces members. The UCMJ is a result of the performance of an unchanging justice system to remedy abuses and, in particular, to apply the only justice system to all Armed Forces of all states. A Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP) is a system of military justice approved by the Article 15 of the UCMJ. This article proclaimed the rights of Armed Forces members. The NJP proceedings are acknowledged by different terms amongst the military services.

In some respect, both systems are related, as the NJP is a part of the UCMJ code of justice. However, the rights and other legal outcomes for each system are different. In general, no considerable enhancement in military punishment can be judiciously foreseen unless the armed facilities give way to the bright understanding of these two systems. In this field of relations, the Armed Forces have been culpably deficient. In this light of military justice, it is unclear the common integrity between the particular UCMD and NJP systems. In order to clarify the basic questions, this paper will further discuss the peculiarities of the types of court martial, punishments, the types of discharges and possible effects of these discharges on civilian life.

Types of Court Marital

The Uniform Code of Military Justice includes three main types of courts-martial. These are the summary court-martial, the special court-martial and the general court-martial. The difference between them is quite significant. Every type has its own way of passing the court process and the level of maximum punishment. It is a common problem that people who are not used to military terms can misunderstand the term “court-martial” and be afraid of it. Generally, the mass media provokes this hysteria, so it is extremely important to explain these terms in order to stop this massive way of misinterpretation. The reality is quite simple – courts-martial are very similar to usual non-military courts and include almost all features observed in law and practice of the US courts.

If there is a need to resolve some minor case, then the case is heard in the summary court-martial. Generally, the law considers it as a non-criminal trial that does not result in a criminal conviction. This court is composed of one officer who even may not be a lawyer.

The special court-martial is a misdemeanor court-martial. It deals with more serious issues than the summary court-martial. Common cases for this type of court deal with the drug use, assault, disobedience and disrespect. This court consists of three or more members and a military judge.

The general court-martial is the type of military courts that deals with crimes including murder, sexual assault and rape, physical assault, sexual abuse and drug distribution. It consists of five or more court members, a trial counsel, a defense counsel and a military judge.

The NJP system permits commanders to administer punishment on troops without going to the court-martial. However, Part V of the UCMJ manual governs the process of non-judicial punishment and each branch of service regulations for courts-martial.

The UCMJ's provisions to respond to the responsibilities of different measures of punishment for officers and for recruited personnel have not been used in any considerable unit. There have been a few conditions when under the new authorities of Article 15, NJP has been preferred against the officers. Similarly, the UCMJ's widening of the jurisdiction 4 to embrace officers has not been broadly used. Still, both of these requirements are helpful cautions to officers. The general court-martial imposes prior reluctance to subject recalcitrant to the only presented punishment, unless punitive measures under Articles 15 and 19 prove to be no longer effective.

The summary court-martial imposes several maximum punishment measures, which comprise confinement for 1 month, forfeit of 2/3 pay for a month and reduction to the lowermost pay grade. In a case the suspect is above the pay grade of E-4, the summary court-martial cannot enforce confinement or hard labor without confinement.

The maximum punishment in the special court-martial contains an arrangement of confinement for 1 year, forfeiture of 2/3 pay for 1 year, reduction to the lowest pay grade and a bad conduct discharge.

The maximum punishment in the general court-martial is that set for each offense and can embrace death, confinement, a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge for some military members, a discharge for officers or a number of different types of punishment. This is the only type of court that can announce a verdict of death.

The NJP is the mutual type of proceeding under the military system of justice. If a military member requires an offense protected by the UCMJ, the commanding officer can make a decision to offer responsibilities due to Article 15. This is generally stated to NJP system of punishment. Therefore, due to this article proceedings are likely to go to a summary court-martial, excluding the commanding officer who is allowed to act as a judge. However, military members do not have to accept NJP proceeding. They can only demand the trial by court-martial instead. The commanding officer acts as a sole judge and a jury. The punishment depends on the rank of the suspect and the rank of the commanding officer.

If the commanding officer is in grades O-4 or above, then the maximum punishment can be different and depends on the circumstances. The first possible maximum punishment is written admonition or reprimand. The second potential punishment may be confinement on bread and water or diminished rations for not more than three days. The third possible punishment is correctional custody for not more than a month. The fourth one is forfeiture of not more than half of one month's pay per month for two months. The fifth one is the reduction of one grade, extra duties for not more than 45 days, and the last is the restriction to the base or a specific area for not more than 60 days.

If a commanding officer who is in grades O-3 and below imposes the punishment, potential punishments are admonishment or reprimand, confinement or diminished rations, correctional custody for not more than a week or forfeiture of not more than one week pay. This category of punishments also includes reduction to the next inferior pay grade. The punishment for the demoted whose rank is within the promotion authority of the OIC may also include extra duties for not more than 2 weeks and restriction for not more than 2 weeks.

Thus, the concrete punishments under an NJP offense are limited to imprisonment on reduced rations, limit to certain quantified bounds, arrest in accommodations, correctional charge, extra responsibilities, penalty of pay, detention of pay and reduction in grade. The degree of these punishments depends on the evaluation of the officer punishment, the rank of the suspect.
Article 22, provides information about members who can convene general courts-martial. These include the President of the US, the Secretary of Defense, the commanding officer of an exact authority and others. This article also analyses a special rule according to which the court has a right to convene superior competent authority and may be convened by such authority if considered necessary.

The Types of Discharges

Typically, requirements for executive discharge by court-martial are categorized as discharges Under Other Than Honorable Conditions. The severe nature of the delinquency and the conditions justifying trial by court-martial usually support the relevance of a UOTHC discharge. An honorable discharge is only approved if the individual’s service is so commendable that any other description would be unsuitable.

Serving in the military gives a discharged person certain veteran benefits. The value of these benefits has a great range. Yet, it is very important to mention that the way an officer leaves the military service can have a great impact on his benefits.
A person receives a discharge only after completing military service. There are numerous types of discharges. Each type has its own amount of benefits. Here is a list of four types of military discharges.

The first type of military discharges is honorable discharge. If a member of military service acquired a good or an excellent mark for his service time, he will receive an honorable discharge for extraordinary performance and personal behavior. This is the best type one can obtain because a discharged person can use all the profits, including military travel benefits, military health insurance and GI Bill education benefits.

The second one is general discharge under honorable conditions. Receiving it means that a person’s performance was quite good, acceptable, but with some minor issues or forms of NJP. Sometimes these issues are not very serious – a failure to show progress in training or inability to meet fitness standards. Nevertheless, a person is still eligible for most benefits except special benefits (for example, GI Bill educational benefit).

The third type is other than honorable discharge (OTH), which means a service person had some serious troubles with individual performance – use of deliberate force to hurt another person, abuse of authority or a serious misconduct. Veteran’s benefits very often are not accessible for people who received this type of discharge.

The last type of discharge is given to military members released from obligation to serve at Army Forces. It is a so-called bad conduct discharge. This discharge can be provided only by the special or general court-martial, but not by the summary one. It is not valid for NJP system.


To conclude, military members on active duty face unique challenges and opportunities resulting from their service. Generally, the U.S. military has benefits of serving and a separate system for considering and prosecuting criminal offenses, ruled by the UCMJ. The UCMJ offers superior protection than the civilian system for military members under investigation. There is always a risk involved in accepting NJP or having allegations of misconduct handled by court martial. Depending on the circumstances, a military member’s best interests are often best served in the long term by fighting the charges in a court-martial than simply accept NJP.

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