The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is the bedrock of military law. The UCMJ is a federal law enacted by Congress. Articles 77 through 134 of the UCMJ are known as the punitive articles. These are specific offenses that, if violated, can result in punishment by court-martial.
The UCMJ and the Manual for Court Martial (MCM)
The law requires the Commander-in-Chief (The President of the United States) to implement the provisions of the UCMJ. The President does this via an executive order known as the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM), which is reviewed annually. Chapter 4 of the MCM includes and expands on the punitive articles.
Service members with court-martial convening authority can mete out appropriate punishments between the maximum and minimum for the article the accused is found guilty of violating.
Within Chapter 4 of the MCM are:
- The article's text: Exact text of the article, as Congress approved it in the UCMJ.
- Elements: Specifics of actions that are covered by the article
- Explanation: The explanation defines terms and clarifies the elements based on previous court decisions.
- Lesser included offenses: Lesser offenses that a military court may still find an accused guilty of.
- Maximum permissible punishments: The maximum punishment allowed.
Who Is Subject to the UCMJ?
Articles 2 and 3 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) outline who is subject to the code and all of its regulations, including the punitive articles (Articles 77–134):
- Members of a regular component of the armed forces
- Cadets and midshipmen
- Reserve component and National Guard members when traveling to duty or between training periods on the same day or consecutive days.
Each of the UCMJ's punitive articles is listed below, with a brief description of the offense the article covers.
Article 77—Principals by association. The article does not define an offense. Its purpose is to clarify that a person needs not personally perform the acts necessary to constitute an offense to be guilty of it.
Article 78—Accessory after the fact
Article 79—Conviction of lesser included offenses
Article 83—Fraudulent enlistment, appointment, or separation
Article 84—Effecting unlawful enlistment, appointment, or separation
The last update to the UCMJ went into effect on January 1, 2019. The changes are based on the Military Justice Act of 2016, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2016.
Article 86—Absence without leave (AWOL)
Article 87—Missing movement
Article 88—Contempt toward officials
Article 90—Assaulting or willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer
Article 92—Failure to obey order or regulation
Article 93—Cruelty and maltreatment
Article 94—Mutiny and sedition
Article 95—Resistance, flight, breach of arrest, and escape
Article 96—Releasing a prisoner without proper authority
Article 97—Unlawful detention
Article 98—Noncompliance with procedural rules
Article 99—Misbehavior before the enemy
The Manual for Courts-Martial not only lists the offenses and punishments, it provides step-by-step instructions for everything from who can apprehend a subject to conducting proceedings.
Article 100—Subordinate compelling surrender
Article 101—Improper use of countersign
Article 102—Forcing a safeguard
Article 103—Captured or abandoned property
Article 104—Aiding the enemy
Article 105—Misconduct as a prisoner
Article 106/a—Spies / Espionage
Article 107—False official statements
Article 108—Military property of the United States—sale, loss, damage, destruction, or wrongful disposition
Article 109—Property other than military property of the United States—waste, spoilage, or destruction
Article 110—Improper hazarding of a vessel
Article 111—Drunken or reckless operation of vehicle, aircraft, or vessel
It's important to note that service members can be prosecuted for a crime under civilian law if they commit a crime off-base. In general, they cannot be charged by military authorities for the same offenses.
Article 112—Drunk on duty
Article 112a—Wrongful use, possession, etc., of controlled substances
Article 113—Misbehavior of sentinel or lookout
Article 114—Endangerment Offenses
Article 116—Riot or breach of peace
Article 117—Provoking speeches or gestures
Article 120—Rape and carnal knowledge
Article 120—Rape, sexual assault, and other sexual misconduct.
Article 114 used to be entitled "Dueling" and covered the act or intent of using deadly weapons to settle a dispute. The new title "Endangerment Offenses" still covers this antiquated dispute settlement method but is more aligned to the act of fighting, promoting or challenging another service member to a fight.
Article 123a—Making, drawing, or uttering check, draft, or order without sufficient funds
Article 132—Frauds against the United States
Article 134 gives the military the ability to punish conduct that is not explicitly listed in the UCMJ, as long as it is not a capital offense—
Though not specifically mentioned in this chapter, all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and crimes and offenses not capital, of which persons subject to this chapter may be guilty, shall be taken cognizance of by a general, special, or summary court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense, and shall be punished at the discretion of that court.
The general article also lists 55 other specific actions that are punishable by a court-martial. Here are a few of the more common offenses:
- Assault with intent to commit murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, robbery, sodomy, arson, burglary, or housebreaking
- Check, worthless, making, and uttering by dishonorably failing to maintain funds.
- Disorderly conduct and drunkenness
- Drunkenness and other incapacitating offenses
- False pretenses, obtaining services under
- Discharging a firearm through negligence
- Homicide, negligent
- Jumping from a vessel into the water
- Restriction, breaking
- Stolen property: knowingly receiving, buying, concealing