What is the Maximum Punishment for an Article 120 Violation?

Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) deals with rape, sexual assault, and sexual contact. These offenses cover a range of unlawful, forced sexual actions on another person. Charges involving sexual misconduct involving a child fall under Article 120b, while “other sexual misconduct” is outlined in Article 120c.

Sexual assault in the military has garnered more public scrutiny in the past few years, increasing pressure on the Department of Defense (DoD) to mandate harsher penalties against service members convicted of Article 120 violations. Service members of any rank in any military branch may face aggressive prosecution.

The only way to fight back is with a strong defense. Contact an experienced military defense attorney as soon as you learn you’ve been accused of rape or sexual assault to begin building your case.

Mandatory Minimum Punishments for Article 120 Violations

In 2014, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA14) introduced sweeping changes to the UCMJ. Article 120 was among the impacted statutes. This law introduced new mandatory minimum punishments for any service member convicted of an Article 120 violation, including dishonorable discharge for enlisted members and dismissal for officers.

Service members who receive a dishonorable discharge must also forfeit all pay, allowances, and veteran benefits. Keep in mind that receiving anything besides an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions could make it difficult to find employment. You also lose your right to own firearms if you have a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge on your record. In addition, you may have to register as a convicted sex offender and have your name listed on the national public registry for the rest of your life.

Another change enacted by NDAA14 is that service members accused of rape or sexual assault must appear before a general court-martial. This is the highest military court that hears only the most serious crimes. Plus, prior to 2014, rape and sexual assault cases had a five-year statute of limitations. NDAA14 removed the statute of limitations, allowing victims to accuse service members years or even decades after an alleged incident occurred.

Maximum Punishments for Article 120 Violations

Different violations are punished according to the laws established by the DoD. As previously stated, all Article 120 convictions result in dishonorable discharge or dismissal and forfeiture of all pay, allowances, and veteran benefits. Most sentences also include confinement, the length of which varies by crime. The following maximum confinements apply to post-2019 alleged offenses:

  • Article 120 rape or Article 120b rape of a child may result in life in prison without parole.
  • Article 120 aggravated sexual assault or Article 120b sexual assault of a minor is punishable by up to 30 years imprisonment.
  • Article 120 aggravated sexual contact or Article 120b sexual abuse of a minor could land you in prison for up to 20 years.
  • Article 120b sexual abuse with the absence of any sexual contact comes with a sentence of up to 15 years confinement.
  • Article 120 abusive sexual contact may result in seven years in prison.
  • Article 120c non-consensual broadcasting or distribution of pornographic material could leave you with a seven-year prison sentence.
  • Article 120c non-consensual recording of pornographic material comes with a prison sentence of up to five years.
  • Article 120c forcible pandering is punishable by up to five years imprisonment
  • Article 120c indecent viewing or indecent exposure comes with up to one year in military prison.

The accused and their families also suffer a long ordeal leading up to the final verdict. Sexual assault allegations may cause service members to be ostracized by their unit, even before the case goes to court-martial. False accusations can also devastate a service member’s reputation outside the military, regardless of the final verdict.

Can You Appeal an Article 120 Conviction?

When a military judge offers their final verdict, the accused is expected to honor and accept the decision. But if you stand by your innocence or think the sentence was too harsh, you have the right to appeal your court-martial conviction. In fact, guilty Article 120 verdicts are the most commonly appealed cases in the military.

General court-martial appeals are heard at the military service courts of appeals. You have access to a free military defense attorney throughout this process, but it’s highly recommended that you hire a more experienced appellate lawyer to increase the chance of winning your case.

The convening authority—the person who initially referred your case to a general court-martial —automatically reviews the findings before they go to the military court of appeals. Once the findings reach the service defense appellate division, service-level JAG officers search them for legal mistakes, fact-finding errors, lack of evidence, or unreasonable punishments that could create grounds for appealing your case. Be aware that it can take two to four years to appeal a court-martial conviction.

Secure Professional Legal Counsel

Clearly, if you are convicted under Article 120, you could face harsh punishments. The best way to lower your sentence—whether in a general court-martial or appeals court—is to work with an experienced military defense lawyer like Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law.

Mr. Jordan can vigorously defend your rights in court-martial by presenting compelling evidence in your defense. As a former JAG officer with over a decade of experience as a military defense attorney, you can trust Mr. Jordan to provide exceptional legal counsel and professionally challenge the prosecution’s claims. For help building your defense, please contact us toll-free at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411 today.


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