Article 120b: Exploring Sexual Misconduct with Minors in the Military

In the military, maintaining discipline and upholding the law is as crucial as defending the nation. This is particularly true when it comes to serious offenses like sexual misconduct involving minors. Article 120b of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) specifically addresses the rape and sexual assault of children, reflecting the military’s commitment to strict standards of conduct and the protection of vulnerable individuals.

Have you been accused of a crime under Article 120b? It’s important to understand pertinent legal definitions, the potential consequences of a conviction, and what defense strategies are available.

The Scope of Article 120b

Under Article 120b, sexual offenses against children are defined and penalized in specific terms. These include:

  • Rape of a child: This involves any sexual act committed against a child under the age of 12. It also includes any sexual act against a child over the age of 12 through the use of force, threatening or placing the child in fear, administering drugs or intoxicants, or taking advantage of a child’s unconscious state.
  • Sexual assault of a child: This involves any sexual act committed against a child who is over the age of 12.
  • Sexual abuse of a child: This refers to any lewd act committed upon a child of any age.


Understanding the legal definitions of various terms used in Article 120b is crucial for comprehending the extent and implications of the crime. Here are the key terms you need to know:

  • A sexual act involves contact between the genitals, anus, or mouth of one person with another, including any penetration, however slight, with the intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, arouse, or gratify sexual desire.
  • Sexual contact refers to touching, directly or through clothing, of genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks, with the intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, arouse, or gratify sexual desire.
  • A lewd act includes any sexual contact with a child or indecent language intended to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, arouse, or gratify sexual desire.
  • Force encompasses the use of a weapon, physical strength, or violence to overcome, restrain, or inflict physical harm to compel submission.
  • Threatening or placing a child in fear refers to communication or actions significant enough to cause reasonable fear of death, grievous bodily harm, or kidnapping.
  • A child under military law is anyone who has not yet reached the legal age of consent, or 16 years old.

Note that lack of consent is not relevant in cases involving sexual misconduct with a minor. A child not married to the perpetrator cannot legally consent to any sexual act.

Punishment and Sentencing

Violations of Article 120b are subject to court-martial and can result in severe punishments. All Article 120 convictions result in dishonorable discharge or dismissal and forfeiture of all pay, allowances, and veteran benefits. These are considered the mandatory minimums, but most sentences also include confinement. For example:

  • Article 120b rape of a child may result in life imprisonment without parole.
  • Article 120b sexual assault of a child could land you in prison for up to 30 years.
  • Article 120b sexual abuse of a child is punishable by up to 20 years of confinement.
  • Article 120b sexual abuse lacking sexual contact may include up to a 15-year prison sentence.

In cases where sentencing guidelines are not explicitly provided, comparisons to other offenses or the customs of the specific military branch might be used to determine an appropriate punishment.

Defending Against Article 120b Accusations

Defendants accused under Article 120b have the opportunity to present various defenses. These could include:

  • Challenging the evidence: This strategy involves questioning the credibility of forensic evidence presented by the prosecution.
  • Lack of intent: Demonstrating that the accused did not intend to abuse, humiliate, or gratify sexual desire is a viable defense in many cases.
  • Mistake of fact regarding age: This defense argues that the accused reasonably believed the minor was above the legal age of consent, which may apply in cases involving older minors.
  • Alibi defense: This is when the accused provides evidence that they weren’t present at the time and location of the alleged offense.
  • Character and service record: Presenting evidence of the accused’s moral character and exemplary service record can be used to counterbalance the charges.

The Importance of Legal Representation

Given the complexity of military law and the severity of punishments under Article 120b, seeking experienced legal counsel is vital. An attorney well-versed in military law and the UCMJ can provide essential guidance, from interpreting the charges to developing a robust defense.

Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law, is ready to represent you. We offer a unique blend of experience, including over a decade of handling complex court-martial cases and our founding attorney’s background as a former enlisted Soldier and Army JAG officer. We are committed to providing world-class criminal defense to service members from all branches of the military. So, if you’re facing accusations under Article 120b, contact us toll-free at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411 to speak directly with Mr. Jordan about your case.

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