There are few decisions that have a greater impact on a service members’ career than the difficult decision of accepting or rejecting the opportunity for Non-Judicial Punishment related to an alleged offense. Non-Judicial Punishment affords a service member the opportunity to resolve an alleged infraction without facing criminal prosecution and with potentially minimal impact on your military career; however, it may also result in termination of your service. Unfortunately, the right and wrong answer to this question depends on your specific circumstance and chance for a positive outcome in a Court-Martial and/or Non-Judicial Punishment. However, this article provides further insight into the question of whether or not to accept Non-Judicial Punishment in the Air Force. 

What is Non-Judicial Punishment in the Air Force?

The military and the service members responsible for its actions and order and disciple must have a variety of tools in place in order to carry out the business of the military, while addressing misconduct by service members. Non-Judicial Punishment or “NJP” as it is often called is a tool to allow for a service member to face potential punishment for misconduct in an expedited manner. 

Commanders appreciate NJP actions as they allow for decisive action on minor infractions; however, service members are placed in a difficult position deciding between giving up the rights to a Court-Martial and due process rights or removing the potential for the most serious negative consequences by accepting NJP. 

Service members are held to a high standard and must conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the uniform they wear. However, rules, guidelines, and punishments for offenses committed by service members are necessary to address the wide variety of alleged misconduct that occurs on every instillation, including Tinker Air Force Base, Altus Air Force Base, and Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

In the United States, service members are guided by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). A violation of the code, which may be in the form of misconduct or minor infraction, may attract punishments. Punishment, in some cases, may mean facing a Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP).

A Non-Judicial Punishment means different things to service members, depending on their branch. However, for a member of the Air Force or U.S. Army, it is referred to as Article 15. In the Navy or Coast Guard, a Non-Judicial Punishment is referred to as a Captain’s Mast, while the Marine Corps refer to it as “Office Hours.”

In essence, a Non-Judicial Punishment is a punishment meted out on an erring service member for their misconduct or minor offense. This type of punishment is considered minor and doesn’t warrant escalation to a level where the case is adjudicated in a court setting. Being an informal hearing, service members may decide to accept this hearing in their own interest. They can also reject the informal hearing and request a Court Martial.

As a military service member, specifically in the Air Force, if you choose to accept this informal hearing, you will give up the following important rights:

  • The right to call for a Court-Martial, which provides you more due process and an independent fact finder; and 
  • Your commander will be the final decider on what, if any punishment, you will receive, if it is determined that you committed the alleged offense.

It is important to note that you should not represent yourself in such cases, whether or not you accept a Non-Judicial Punishment. You must attend the formal or informal hearing with your attorney armed with relevant evidence to prove and support your argument. You can also show up with witnesses as with a Court-Martial or typically court proceeding. 

What Happens After Accepting Non-Judicial Punishment?

Accepting a Non-Judicial Punishment may be a good way to address minor infractions wherein you stand a winning chance. It can also be a good way to avoid the formality and scrutiny of a Court Martial. However, it may also be a bad idea, especially if there are certain factors on the ground militating against you. The silver lining is that you can discuss these concerns with your military lawyer and seek appropriate advice on how to proceed.

Your Right to Defense Counsel

As a service person in the Air Force, you reserve the right to seek legal help and consult a military defense lawyer before or during your Non-Judicial Punishment hearing. You can choose to hire a civilian military defense attorney or simply work with an assigned Area Defense Counsel (ADC) in the Air Force or Trial Defense Services attorney (TDS) in the Army. We recommend retaining experienced private military defense counsel and keeping your appointed/free military defense lawyer or Judge Advocate. Two attorneys are typically better than one when something as important as your military career is on the line. 

Unfortunately, in some military Non-Judicial Punishment Actions (NJP) you are not entitled to appointed counsel by the Air Force or Army, i.e. no Area Defense Counsel in the Air Force and no Trial Defense Counsel in the Army. Therefore, you must retain private military defense counsel to assist you in these matters. 

Whether you decide to work with Cannon & Associates or not, we highly encourage you to seek civilian counsel in these settings to assist you in present the best case for your defense and continued career in the military. Owner and founder of Cannon & Associates, John P. Cannon, is a field grade officer and Judge Advocate in the National Guard and our team looks forward to answering your questions in these matters. 

Access to Private, Civilian Legal Help

The law aims to be as fair, open, and promising as possible. Air Force personnel facing Non-Judicial Punishment have a chance to consult with a military lawyer or dip into their pockets to hire and consult with private civilian lawyers.

Your lawyer will function as in any other case by helping you with the investigative process, collecting evidence relevant to your case, and coaching you on how to navigate common problems as the case proceeds.

As with most other service members, Air Force personnel will find the NJP process is a new playing field. They will often have to carefully navigate issues and consult their military defense attorney to avoid making irredeemable mistakes. On the other hand, the attorney will work closely with affected service members to identify the best course of action and make the best use of their legal strategy. Your military or civilian defense attorney will consider the strength of your defense and give you advice on whether to argue innocence or plead guilty.

Although hiring a military defense lawyer is recommended, service members can also appoint a superior officer or commander as their spokesperson during the hearing. 

Please note rejecting the Non-Judicial Punishment often means opting for a Court-Martial, which may result in a federal conviction and/or prison time. In a Court-Martial, you’ll need experienced defense counsel that has trial experience that you trust to defense your future and present your case. You should not give up or accept the opportunity resolve your matter through Non-Judicial Punishment before obtaining the advice of experienced counsel, either a serving Judge Advocate in your branch / instillation or by meeting with an experienced private military defense attorney. 

Possible Penalties

Non-Judicial Punishments are often limited punishments for service members who have committed minor offenses. The commanding officer or a suitable superior often presides over the hearing before punishment is announced.

Before punishment is handed out, careful consideration of the infraction or minor offense is allowed. Here, service members can defend themselves by hiring a private lawyer or choosing a military lawyer. 

Part V of the Manual for Courts-Martial and Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) constitutes the appropriate punishments that can be meted out on offending service members.

In the Air Force and Army, NJP can only be imposed by a commanding officer to whom the service member reports. Penalties depend on the service member’s rank and the commander’s rank. Some of the common punishments may include;

  • Demotion or reduction in rank 
  • Forfeiture of pay  
  • Restriction on duties handled 

The most important point to note is that NJP cannot result in a federal conviction and cannot result in loss of liberty, i.e. jail/prison. However, you do give up due process rights that are protected and afforded in a Court-Martial proceeding. 

Looking deeper into the NJP penalties, one would find that certain cases and penalties are peculiar. Read below to better understand the extent of the punishment that could be meted out on offending service members.

Penalties for officers accused of misconduct

An officer that has been accused of misconduct may choose NJP to ease their stress and plead their cause. If the imposing officer holds the General Court Martial authority or the commanding officer is of the grade O-7 or greater, then the offending officer may face penalties such as;

  • Arrest in quarters: This can last for up to 30 days.
  • Restriction to limits: This can last for up to 60 days
  • Pay forfeiture: This can be less than or equal to ½ of a month’s base pay*. It can extend for up to two months.
  • Reprimand or admonition 

* Please note that base pay does not include allowances or special pay in this case.

If the commanding officer is between Grades O-4 and O-6, then the offending officer may face penalties such as;

  • Restriction to limits – this can last for up to 30 days
  • Reprimand or admonition 

If the commanding officer is between Grade O-1 to O-3, then the offending officer may face penalties like;

  • Restriction to limits – this can last for up to 15 days
  • Reprimand or admonition 

If the officer imposing punishment is an Officer in Charge (OIC), then the offending officer may face No Non-Judicial Punishment.

What happens to Enlisted Members Accused of Misconduct?

Enlisted members facing misconduct accusations may suffer one of three types of Non-Judicial Punishment. They include;

Summary Article 15: Commander O-3 or below and commissioned OIC may impose the following penalties;

  • Restriction to specific limits: This may mean the offending officer’s inability to handle certain duties during this period, lasting up to 14 days. The offending officer may be restricted to barracks, normally work, mess halls, or medical facilities.
  • Extra duties: offending officers may be subject to extra duties, including but not limited to fatigue. Such punishment should not exceed 14 days.
  • Restriction with extra duties for up to 14 days.

Company Grade Commander (O-3 or below) may impose;

  • Restriction to specific limits: This may mean the offending officer’s inability to handle certain duties during this period, lasting up to 14 days. The offending officer may be restricted to barracks, normally work, mess halls, or medical facilities.
  • Extra duties: Offending officers may be subject to extra duties, including but not limited to fatigue. Such punishment should not exceed 14 days.
  • Restriction with extra duties for up to 14 days.
  • Correctional custody lasting up to 7 days 
  • Forfeiture of base pay for up to 7 days 
  • Diminished rations or confinement or strict bread and water diet for up to 3 days.
  • Admonition or reprimand. This can either be verbal or written.

Field Grade (O-4 to O-6) may punish the offending officer with;

  • Restrictions lasting up to 60 days 
  • Extra duties which may include fatigue for up to 45 days 
  • Correctional custody, lasting up to 30 days. This is applicable to accused officers in the grades E-3 and below 
  • Restriction with extra duties for up to 45 days
  • Forfeiture of up to half base pay for no more than two months
  • Diminished food rations or confinement to bread and water diet for up to 3 days 
  • Verbal or written warning or reprimand.

What Next?

It is important to remember that you can either accept or reject a Non-Judicial Punishment action. However, you may want to consider it strongly as it is an informal internal hearing with chances of a significantly less punishment compared to losing a Court-Martial, which can result in a federal criminal conviction and prison time.

However, if you feel strongly about your case and wish to fight for your innocence, the Court-Martial process affords you more rights. Please consult with experienced counsel before making this decision, which can affect the rest of your life and will impact the rest of your military career.

Our military defense team at Cannon & Associates is here to consult, advise, aggressively investigate, and take on your defense case, if we are the right fit for you and your needs. We are Fierce Advocates™ focused on representing our clients in any allegation. 

Cannon & Associates is dedicated to being Your Fierce Advocates™ and will fight for your rights to a fair hearing and representation. We cannot ethically guarantee the outcome of your military case; however, we can guarantee you will have a clear understanding every step of the way and know your options throughout the process.

Founder John Cannon is a field grade Judge Advocate in the National Guard and has been recognized as a Super Lawyer. More importantly, our team has more 5-Star Google Reviews than 99% of law firms in the State of Oklahoma. Contact Cannon & Associates to protect your rights and fight for your case in Oklahoma. Complete the CONTACT FORM ON THIS PAGE NOW or CALL at 405-689-8128 for a free, confidential case evaluation.