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Article 134- Misprision of Serious Offense

Paragraph 95 of the Manual for Court Martial deals with misprision of serious offense. According to Black's Law Dictionary, if an accused had knowledge of a crime and he does not reveal it to the right authorities, then it is called misprision.

The text of statute under Article 134 says that all neglects and disorders which are adverse to the discipline and good order in the armed forces; all conducts that can bring discredit to the armed forces, and offense and crimes that are not of a capital nature can be punished as decided by a court martial.

Elements of the offense

  • A certain person has committed a serious offense.
  • The accused was aware that the offense was committed by the said person.
  • The accused has concealed the person's offense and did not tell the military or civilian authorities about it.
  • The concealing of the offense was wrongful.
  • In these circumstance, the accused's conduct was adverse to the discipline and good conduct in the armed forces or the nature of the offense was such that it brought discredit to the armed forces.

Explanation for the elements

'Adverse to the discipline and good order in the armed forces' refers to acts that are directly adverse to the good order and discipline and do not cover acts that are only remotely or indirectly adverse. Almost any improper or irregular act committed by a service member can be said to be adverse in a remote or indirect sense, however they are not included in this definition.

In general: If a person commits a serious offense and the accused conceals that offense without previously concerting to do so or providing the person any subsequent assistance that would cause the accused to become an accessory to the crime, is an offense and it is called 'misprision' of the offense.

An accused will become an accessory to a crime if the accused has committed an offense that is included in the charged offense or if he has attempted to commit the offense or an offense that is included in the charged offense. It is not necessary to show that the accused's action intended to benefit the person.

Serious offense: In the context of 'misprision of serious offense', a serious offense is any type of offense that could be punished according to the code of military law by death or by imprisonment exceeding 1 year.

Positive act of concealment: A person is not guilty of committing this offense if there was only a refusal or a mere failure to report the serious offense and no positive action to conceal the offense. For instance, if the accused has entered false information into a ledger with the intention of concealing theft committed by another person, then we can say that the accused has tried to positively conceal the crime.

If an accused commits an offense which could be tried under a certain provision (Article) in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, then that offense should be punished according to those provisions and not Article 134.

Maximum punishment for the offense

If an accused is found guilty of committing this offense, he could be punished with a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of allowance and pay and 3 years of confinement.

In 2002, a service member of the US Coast Guard was accused of 'misprision of serious offense'. He had allegedly helped his subordinates transport shrimp that they had obtained illegally from the ships they had boarded in pursuance of their law enforcement duties.

The prosecution accused the service member of advising his subordinates to transport the shrimp they had obtained in a government vehicle, to his quarters so as to prevent detection. They also accused him of failing to report the offense (obtaining shrimp illegally) to his higher authorities. This was among other offenses that the service member was charged with. He was finally punished with a bad conduct discharge and a reduction in rank.

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