What Is Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP)?
Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice gives commanding officers the authority to punish service members without a trial. This is why it is “Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP)” which does not constitute a judicial finding of guilt and does not result in a criminal conviction or criminal record. This authority is given to commanders to swiftly maintain good order and discipline within the ranks. NJP is used to address minor misconduct, defined as misconduct that “ordinarily” does not carry a maximum sentence of a dishonorable discharge or confinement longer than one year if tried by general court-martial. However, the decision whether an offense is “minor” is a matter of discretion for the commander. Each branch of the military takes a different approach to nonjudicial punishment.
What To Know About Nonjudicial Punishments In All Branches
Despite the varying standards of proof in the different branches, a commander who initiates nonjudicial punishment likely already thinks that you are guilty. The rules of evidence do not apply at NJP and the commander can consider anything s/he deems relevant, even if the rules of evidence would not allow it at court martial. It is imperative that you consult with an experienced attorney immediately in order to assess your case. An experienced attorney will be able to identify whether there are problems with the evidence and advise you whether to accept the NJP or to fight at a court martial. If accepting NJP is the best course of action for you, your attorney can develop a defense strategy and help you prepare matters in defense, extenuation, and mitigation. You are not entitled to an attorney at the NJP proceeding with the commander. However, your attorney can prepare the defense so that you can make an effective presentation to your commander.
Nonjudicial punishments move fast and you will have a very short amount of time to prepare your defense. This is one of the reasons why it is best to get an experienced attorney on your side as early as possible, ideally while you are under investigation. Many attorneys will be afraid to advise you to decline NJP and demand trial by court martial, even if that is what is best for you.
Other people in my unit did the same thing I am accused of, but they only received a counseling or a warning. Can I file an IG or EO complaint for being treated unfairly?
This will not help you. The military likes to be uniform. However, the law is an exception and there is no “one size fits all” regarding punishment. Commanders have the discretion to treat all cases individually and uniquely. In fact, they are encouraged to do so.
If I decline NJP and demand trial by court martial, does that mean that I am guaranteed to go to trial?
No. Commanders have the discretion to dispose of a case in any way they deem appropriate. This means that if you decline NJP, the command may take adverse administrative action against you instead, to include administrative separation. However, if you decline NJP you should be prepared to go to trial. This is what typically happens.
My Sergeant Major told me that if I appeal my NJP, the higher authority can make my punishment worse. Is this true?
No. This is one of the greatest NJP myths in the military. The appellate authority is not allowed to increase punishment. Some leaders will try to scare you into not appealing so that the higher authorities are not involved.
IF YOU ARE FACING NONJUDICIAL PUNISHMENT, DON’T WAIT. CALL US NOW!