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Uniform Code of Military Justice Updates, Effective January 1st, 2019

With the enactment of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a series of Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) updates have been implemented on January 1st, 2019. The late John McCain described the updates as the “most significant reforms” to the UCMJ in history. How will the changes actually impact members of the United States Armed Forces?

Updated & Increased Definition of Criminal Violations

The overall topic of actions that can be described as a military crime has been expanded with the January 2019 legal update to the UCMJ. New criminal violations never before described in the UCMJ have been added. Furthermore, several crimes described in Article 134 were separated to be defined in their own article and words.

An example of a newly defined crime is the intentional retaliation against a service member who “witnesses or reports a crime or gross waste, mismanagement, or abuse of authority,” akin to whistleblower protections in the private sector. An example of a newly moved crime is debit or credit card theft, which used to be considered a subset of general larceny. The refined and separated criminal definitions could allow prosecutions to more easily pursue convictions by selecting specific criminal charges in relation to the evidence on hand.

The blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit acceptable while driving on all military bases has also been lowered to 0.08, down from a previous 0.10. Previously, the higher enforceable limit could be used at a commander’s discretion if the military base in question technically exists in two states.

Enhanced Victim Protections & Investigative Powers

The criminally accused in the military are now also up against a stronger investigative branch of the military criminal justice system due to the recent UCMJ changes. Military judges can now write or approve warrants to collect electronic communications from an online service provider during a military criminal investigation. The investigative process has also been expedited and enhanced by allowing military judges to order wiretaps, subpoenas, and other special investigative legal tools before a case ever goes to court martial.

Alleged victims of military crimes have gained protections under the January 1st, 2019 UCMJ update as well. Accusing or reported victims can request government counsel for any interviews with investigators. Associated representatives working with people who cannot represent themselves have also gained the same legal protections provided to the victim.

Panel Selection, Impanelment & Jeopardy Changes

More legal powers have been removed from the criminally accused in military settings with changes to panel selection and impanelment processes. In the past, a service member accused of a crime with a potential sentencing duration of six months or less could choose for their case to go before a panel or a judge. With the latest UCMJ update, the ability to choose has been placed solely into the hands of a government official. Additionally, panel members can now include most any enlisted member on active duty, even if they are from the same “unit” as the accused.

The military justice system has also shifted closer to civilian federal courts with the new inclusion of segmented sentencing. Military judges can decide upon each offense in a case separately or together, and penalties can be concurrent or not. Lastly and in a potential improvement for the defendant, panel sizes have been increased, and the number of panelist votes needed to convict a defendant has been increased to three-fourths, up from two-thirds.

Trusted Representation for Military Members Worldwide

With the new 2019 Uniform Code of Military Justice updates, it is more important than ever for criminally accused military service members and those facing military court martial to seek the representation of a defense attorney. By siding with Attorney Joseph Jordan and his legal team, you can place your case — and your future as a proud member of the United States Armed Forces — in trusted, award-winning hands. He has been there to defend service members from all branches and in bases across the globe. Let him be your legal guide and defender for your case as well by calling (888) 616-6177, or by using an online contact form.