Entering the armed forces is more than just boot camp and drill sergeants, you have an entirely new set of laws to follow. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) was enacted in 1951 in order to promote discipline, efficiency, and strength within the nation’s armed forces.
Every member of the armed forces, from the Army to the Coast Guard, must follow these rules. Additional rules may be enacted by a certain branch of the military, but will only apply to those members.
These laws are separate from federal law, but can be changed by Congress or the commander-in-chief.
In general, the UCMJ is very similar to laws that you would have to follow as a civilian. Murder, theft, assault, and so on are all crimes under the UCMJ. However, there are a few rules in the UCMJ that cannot be found state or federal laws (the most well known is the ban on adultery in the UCMJ).
A member of the military may not always be in the position where they are wearing a uniform or actively serving, however, they may still be bound to the rules of the UCMJ. Test your military knowledge by answering the following questions:
Do Retired Military Members Have To Follow the UCMJ?
Is The UCMJ Enforced Off-Base?
Is the UCMJ Enforced Overseas?
The answer to all of these questions is yes.
Who Must Follow the UCMJ?
Article 2 of the UCMJ lays out all of the people who must follow the UCMJ, including:
- Members awaiting discharge after terms of enlistment have expired
- Volunteers who have been accepted by the armed forces
- Cadets and midshipmen
- Members of the reserves, while on inactive-duty training (with two exceptions)
- Members of the Army National Guard/Air National Guard while in Federal service
- Persons in custody serving a sentence after a court-martial
- Prisoners of war in custody of the armed forces
- Persons serving with/accompanying an armed force in the field (in time of war only)
- Persons serving in the Coast Guard
In addition to the above, retired members of the military must also follow the UCMJ if they are entitled to retirement pay. Retired reservists who receive VA hospital care are also subject to the UCMJ.
Members of the Civil Air Patrol and Coast Guard Auxiliary are not subject to the UCMJ.
Who Enforces the UCMJ?
As mentioned above, some of the laws of the UCMJ and federal or state laws overlap. For example, assault is illegal under the UCMJ and federal law. A member of local law enforcement is able to arrest a member of the military for assault.
However, the rules change when the law enforcement officer catches a member of the military in an act that is only illegal under the UCMJ. In this case, the officer may report the incident to the branch where the member serves. The officer is not required to report the incident.
When Is the UCMJ Enforced?
The UCMJ is certainly enforced during times of war, but also applies during times of peace.
Where Is the UCMJ Enforced?
A law enforcement officer may catch the service member breaking the UCMJ off base, but location does not make a difference. Whether the member is on or off base, they have to adhere to the laws of the UCMJ.
If someone is serving outside of the United States, they also still have to follow the UCMJ. However, each country is different. Negotiations may be made between the United States and the country, and different laws will be added or removed.
If you are traveling outside of the country to serve, make sure you have a clear understanding of any changes or additions to the laws that you must follow. Occupied areas are bound to the UCMJ, as it has laws for how military members should treat civilians in these areas.
How Do You Defend Against Charges?
If you have been accused of violating the UCMJ, you will face a process that is similar to the civilian criminal justice system, but tried in a different court with slightly different rules. You may face a court-martial, and the military jury that hears your case will not have to come to a unanimous vote in order to find you guilty. You still have the right to legal counsel, but you will have to make sure that the lawyer defending you has experience with the UCMJ and how military crimes are handled.
If you have been accused of violating the UCMJ, you face serious consequences that may threaten your position in the Armed Forces. Fight back with a serious defense strategy and a serious military defense lawyer.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).