Non-judicial punishment (NJP) is a form of disciplinary action that a military service member may face when charged with a minor offense. The proceedings allow commanders to resolve minor service member misconduct without resorting to higher forms of discipline.
Each branch of service calls non-judicial punishment by a different name, including:
- Captain’s Mast (Navy and Coast Guard)
- Article 15 (Air Force and Army)
- Office Hours (Marines)
If your commander has summoned you to an NJP hearing, learn more about these proceedings and how to defend yourself against accusations.
What Offenses Result in Non-Judicial Punishment?
NJP hearings discipline service members for minor crimes that could detrimentally affect a military unit’s performance. Examples of offenses that could end in non-judicial punishment include:
- Reporting late for duty
- Petty theft
- Destroying government property
- Sleeping on watch
- Making false official statements
- Disobeying an order or regulation
Non-judicial punishment is not the same as a court-martial. Such formal proceedings are reserved for more egregious offenses. You can find out more about what violations are punishable in the military by reviewing the articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Should I Accept the NJP Hearing?
Service members have the right to refuse non-judicial punishment (unless they are attached to or embarked on a vessel). Speak with a military defense lawyer before making your decision because refusing the NJP hearing moves your case to a court-martial. This could impact you in several ways. For instance:
- Maximum sentences for non-judicial punishment are much lower than court-martial proceedings.
- Being found guilty at an NJP hearing doesn’t result in a federal conviction the way a court-martial does.
- A guilty verdict from non-judicial punishment goes on your military record, but this only lasts for two years. By comparison, a court-martial conviction stays on your record for years, possibly even permanently, depending on the crime and level of court-martial.
- Most NJPs don’t affect your ability to remain in the armed forces. On the other hand, a court-martial conviction could result in being discharged.
Agreeing to accept an NJP is not admitting guilt—it simply tells your commander that you’re willing to let them decide if you’re guilty and what punishment you should receive. If you plead not guilty, your commander must listen to your side of the story.
How Does Non-Judicial Punishment Work?
You will find out you have been accused when you receive a written notice that your commanding officer is considering non-judicial punishment. The letter should include a description of your alleged offenses, a summary of the evidence against you, and a notification of your rights.
Regardless of what military branch you’re in, you can expect your commanding officer to act as the judge and jury in an NJP proceeding. You have the right to make a personal appearance, present evidence, and bring witnesses to speak on your behalf. You can also refuse to testify if you prefer to remain silent. Plus, you are not required to disclose privileged communications between you and your lawyer, clergy, spouse, psychologist, or victim advocate.
During the hearing, both sides are invited to present the relevant information they have gathered. Then, the NJP authority must determine whether the allegations are true by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely to be true than false). If so, the NJP authority delivers a guilty verdict. If not, they declare the accused not guilty.
What are the Maximum Punishments for Committing an NJP Offense?
Because NJP offenses are relatively minor, the sentences doled out in these hearings aren’t too harsh. They may include:
- Confinement for up to eight days (only applies to service members attached to or embarked on a vessel)
- Extra duty and restriction for up to 45 days
- Restriction (given without extra duty) for up to 60 days
- Correctional custody served in a confinement facility
- Arrest in quarters during the punishment period
- Extra duties for up to seven days
- Forfeiture of two-thirds pay for one month
- Reduction in military rank
- Formal admonition or reprimand on the service member’s record
Your commander may decide to suspend any or all punishment for up to six months, meaning the sentence does not take effect. If you don’t engage in any misconduct during this period, any suspended punishment is canceled. However, if you misbehave, the commander can reinstate the original sentence. You cannot contest or appeal this decision. You may also face additional disciplinary action for your further misconduct.
Can You Appeal the Results of a Non-Judicial Punishment?
If found guilty during an NJP hearing, you can appeal to the Commanding Officer’s next senior-level officer by going through the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) office. You must submit your appeal within five working days of the hearing on one of these grounds:
- Insufficient evidence for you to be found guilty
- Excessive punishment for the offense committed
- Improper legal procedures during the hearing
The commander who hears your appeal can overturn the guilty verdict, lessen your sentence, or keep the sentence the same. They cannot make your punishment more severe.
Should I Hire a Military Lawyer to Defend Against an NJP?
Due to the less serious nature of non-judicial punishment, some service members choose to present their own cases or have a non-lawyer act as a spokesperson. However, when your reputation is on the line, you want nothing less than the best military defense attorney by your side.
Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law, is an experienced legal professional who can help you decide whether to accept the NJP or demand a trial by court-martial. We provide other sound legal counsel every step of the way and can help you gather supporting evidence, both to explain your side of the story and to support your reputation for truthfulness and commitment. Then, we can represent you at your NJP hearing and make sure your commanding officer respects your rights. Contact us toll-free today at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411 to speak directly with Mr. Jordan about your case.