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Understanding Article 112a

March 16, 2021

Drug offenses in the military fall under Article 112a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). If you have been accused of dealing, distributing, or abusing drugs, it’s important to understand what punishments you may be facing. With a knowledgeable military lawyer by your side, you’ll have what you need to defend yourself against drug-related allegations.

Elements of Article 112a

Various drug-related situations are covered under the seven sections of Article 112a. These include:

  • Possession
  • Use
  • Distribution
  • Introduction into a military installation, vessel, vehicle, or aircraft
  • Manufacture
  • Possession/manufacture/introduction with intent to distribute
  • Import or export from the United States

Article 112a Subsection (b)

This subsection explicitly lists which illegal substances are prohibited in the military. These include:

  • Marijuana
  • Opium
  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamine
  • Methamphetamine (meth)
  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
  • Phencyclidine (angel dust)
  • Barbituric acid
  • Any compounds or derivatives of the above substances
  • All Schedule I through V drugs (listed in section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act)

As a reminder, even though cannabidiol (CBD) has been removed from the federal government’s list of controlled substances, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Therefore, it continues to be prohibited in the military under Article 112a.

Determining Wrongful Action

To receive punishment under Article 112a, a service member’s actions must be deemed wrongful, or without legal authorization or justification. The government is responsible for proving all elements beyond a reasonable doubt in order to charge a service member with an Article 112a violation.

The UCMJ outlines three circumstances that are not considered wrongful and therefore aren’t punishable under Article 112a. These include drug possession, use, distribution, introduction, or manufacture that is:

  • Pursuant to law enforcement activities (informants)
  • Done by authorized personnel while performing medical duties
  • Done with ignorance to the prohibited nature of the substance (possessing cocaine but believing it to be sugar)

For a service member’s drug use, possession, distribution, introduction, import, export, or manufacture to be wrongful, it must contain these two elements:

  1. The accused used, possessed, etc. a controlled substance; and
  2. The use, possession, etc. was wrongful.

In cases of drug possession, manufacture, or introduction with intent to distribute, a third element is required. Therefore, it becomes the government’s obligation to prove:

  1. That the accused possessed, manufactured, or introduced a given amount of controlled substance;
  2. That the possession, manufacture, or introduction was wrongful; and
  3. That the possession, manufacture, or introduction occurred with intent to distribute.

If any aggravating circumstances have been alleged—such as that the service member was aboard a military vessel or aircraft at the time of the offense—this element must be listed and proven beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction to occur.

Maximum Punishments for Article 112a Violations

Simple drug offenses are typically handled via non-judicial punishment or a summary court martial. More serious cases generally go to special or general court martial.

The possible punishments under Article 112a vary widely. Factors affecting the sentence include:

  • Which controlled substance is at issue: Use of Schedule I, II, and III drugs come with more severe punishments than Schedule IV and V substances.
  • The amount of drugs involved: For some crimes and drug types, the amount is inconsequential. However, the perceived severity of possessing marijuana depends on whether the accused had more or less than 30 grams.
  • Status at the time the illegal action(s) occurred: If the accused is serving as a sentinel or lookout, aboard a military vessel or aircraft, in a military missile launch facility, serving in a time of war, receiving special pay under 37 USC § 310 (hostile fire or danger pay), or in a military confinement facility, five years is added to the maximum confinement period.
  • Whether the crime involves others: The military punishes wrongful drug distribution, import, or export more severely than individual drug use.

Examples of potential punishments for drug offenses in the military include:

  • Dishonorable discharge
  • Forfeiture of all pay and allowances
  • Confinement for two to 15 years (plus five years if certain aggravating circumstances apply)

Defending Yourself Against Article 112a Drug Charges

When combatting the military’s resources in the current cultural climate, you need competent legal counsel to successfully defend yourself during a court martial. Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law has what it takes to uphold your career and freedom!

With a 14-year tenure as a military attorney and previous experience serving as an Army JAG officer, Mr. Jordan is well-equipped to handle your case. Our military law firm has represented highly complex Article 112a cases over the years. We also have an excellent track record of achieving desirable outcomes for the men and women in uniform who serve our country.

Call us toll free at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411 today to speak directly with Joseph L. Jordan about your case.

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