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Denver, CO Martial Law Blog

Friday, July 28, 2017

Court-Martial vs. Non-Judicial Punishment

Q: Is Non-Judicial Punishment (“NJP”) preferable to facing a court-martial?

“Man overboard”. Words that strike fear and prompt action in Navy service members.

Sometimes a sailor falls overboard, is never recovered, and the hero's survivors become a Gold Star family. Other times, a presumed “man overboard” may have a different, decidedly less heroic or honorable resolution--like when a missing sailor was recently discovered bone-dry and hiding in the ship’s engine room a week after disappearing.

Sometimes men overboard may want a skilled court-martial defense attorney to defend them from AWOL (“absent without leave”) charges like abandoning watch and dereliction of duty.

Desertion and AWOL violations go by many names. Basically, these charges stem from being absent or failing to report for duty without authorization and the punishments vary greatly, often ranging from a less than honorable discharge to time in federal prison if the service member faces a court-martial. Being declared a deserter can affect both your military career and your life after it. So, it's important to hire a skilled civilian military defense attorney to defend you against these charges and help mitigate the punishment.

In a rough week for the U.S. Navy, a sailor fell overboard off the USS Normandy on June 6th, sparking a 76-hour unsuccessful search for his body. Two days into that search mission, a different sailor on the USS Shiloh was found missing on the evening of June 8th and was also presumed to have fallen overboard in the Okinawa area.

A massive search effort for the Shiloh sailor was immediately launched involving “Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and Japan Coast Guard ships”, as well as helicopters and other aircraft. After three days and more than 50 hours, the sailor was presumed lost at sea and the search was called off on June 11th. While some crew members continued searching the ship, others began planning a memorial service.

Surprisingly, the missing sailor was found alive in the ship’s engine room on June 15th – – a week after disappearing and four days after the search ended--and was charged with UCMJ violations of "absence without leave AWOL for abandoning watch under Article 86 and failure to obey an order or regulation for dereliction in the performance of duties under Article 92".

Had he been court-martialed, the maximum punishment for these charges was six months confinement and six months forfeiture of 2/3 pay, and "bad–conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and six months confinement", respectively, according to the Manual for Courts-Martial.


But instead of a court-martial that could have resulted in a criminal conviction, an Admiral’s mast proceeding was held and the sailor received non-judicial punishment (“NJP”) --which does not constitute a criminal conviction. "The maximum permissible punishment depends on the rank of the accused and that of the officer conducting the hearing. Where the commanding officer is of a grade 0-7 or higher, permissible NJP punishments for officers can include:

  •  forfeiture of pay (up to 1/2 of one month’s pay per month for two months),
  • restriction to base or to the ship (up to 60 days),
  • arrest in quarters (up to 30 days), and
  • a reprimand."

The servicemember has the right to appeal the severity of the nonjudicial punishment to a higher authority.

Specifics regarding the sailor’s punishment --and the reason given when he admitted he intentionally hid and actively avoided searches by the crew for a week-- is unknown. The Navy is reportedly "looking into taking other administrative action against the sailor".

Whether you are facing a court-martial or a military administrative action, the military defense attorneys at Elkus, Sisson & Rosenstein, P.C. in Colorado can help you. Call us at 719-247-3111 for a free consultation. With offices in Denver and Colorado Springs, we represent service members of all ranks and in all branches anywhere in the world and have extensive experience in high profile cases.


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