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Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies. The concept is that one is innocent until proven guilty. Regardless of what the law says about reasonable doubt, there is an unwritten presumption within the ranks of the military that if you are charged with sexual assault, then you are guilty. The stakes are your life! Your military counsel works for the same military that charged you. Consider that as you choose who represents you in your potentially life altering case.

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Article 134- Willful Discharge of Firearm under Circumstances that Endanger Human Life

Service members who are found guilty of discharging a firearm under circumstances such that they endanger others are charged under this article. This falls within the General Article 134 of the UCMJ under which are outlined the three bases of criminal liability:

a) Conduct that is prejudicial to discipline and good order

b) Conduct that discredits the United States Armed Forces

c) Conduct that involves the commission of a non- capital crime

The elements to be proven in Article 134 trials where a firearm has been discharged in a way that human life has been endangered are as follows:

  • That at a specific time and place, the accused discharged a specific firearm, such as a service rifle.
  • That this act of discharging the weapon was deliberate and wrongful.
  • That this act was done under circumstances wherein the life of others was put in danger.
  • That under these circumstances, the accused acted in a manner that was not in accordance with the good order and discipline expected from members of the armed forces or the accused's conduct was such that it would bring discredit to the armed forces in some way.

Explanation of Article 134 Terms

The accused's conduct is deemed to be unsatisfactory as per this article if it causes reasonable damage/ impairment to 'good order and discipline'. The accused is also in violation of this article when his behavior puts the defense forces to shame or discredits it in some way.

While proof that other people were harmed or that fatalities occurred does not have to be shown during trial, the prosecution has to establish that 'circumstances that could endanger human life' were present. That means the circumstances must have been such that it is reasonable to expect that harm to other people may have occurred.

What is the Maximum Punishment Given under Article 134?

The accused faces maximum punishment of forfeiture of all allowances and pay, dishonorable discharge and 1 year confinement if he is proved to be guilty of violating this article.

Restrictions on the Use of Article 134

The Pre-emption Doctrine ensures that Article 134 cannot be used in certain situations where other legal guidelines are already in force. Under this doctrine, the UCMJ Article 134 cannot be used for conduct which is prohibited under UCMJ articles 78, or in articles 80 to 132. Capital crimes, those punishable by death under common law, are not tried under this article. There are other restrictions on the application of Article 134. Refer to the Manual for Courts Martial for further information on this article.

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