NON-JUDICIAL PUNISHMENT - COAST GUARD
A court martial may not be the only legal option in the hands of commanding officers when they have to punish an erring Coast Guard staff member. When a Coast Guardsman has committed a minor offense, his superiors may choose non- judicial methods to correct, deter and punish him. These Non- judicial punishments or NJP are outlined in Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Part V of the Manual for Courts Martial. In the Coast Guard, these proceedings are known as 'Captain's Mast'.
WHO CAN IMPOSE NON- JUDICIAL PUNISHMENT IN THE COAST GUARD?
Unlike in the Army and Air Force, An 'Officer in Charge' can impose NJP in the Coast Guard. An 'Officer in Charge' does not refer to the designation of the superior officer but refers to an officer whom the flag officer with court martial authority has designated as such.
The superior officer resorts to NJP only when he is convinced that mere reprimand will not deter the accused coast guard personnel or prevent him from committing similar offenses again. In determining whether NJP needs to be imposed the superior keeps in mind that discipline and good order should be maintained under his command at all times.
In the Coast Guard, the commanding officer (or OIC) can exercise his NJP authority to punish a member from another armed force who is attached to his unit. However, the proceedings are subject to the individual's service regulations and any other applicable directives. If NJP proceedings are to be initiated against a member of the Coast Guard who is serving in another armed force unit, he/ she may be re-assigned to a Coast Guard unit for such proceedings.
THE DISCRETION OF THE OIC PLAYS KEY ROLE
The imposition of NJP depends substantially upon the discretion of the Officer in Charge who has authority to deliver and implement the punishment. The decision that stronger action than reprimand needs to be taken is taken by him at his discretion. The kind of punishment to be imposed and the degree to which it is implemented is also decided by this officer. If the accused refuses to accept the punishment it is up to the Officer in Charge to decide whether to take no further action, to escalate it to a court martial or to issue a reprimand of some kind in lieu of the NJP. Since the Officer in Charge has extensive leeway in NJP proceedings, the law also ensures that the interests and rights of the accused Coast Guard servicemen are protected fully.
RIGHTS OF THE COAST GUARD MEMBER IN NJP PROCEEDINGS
The Coast Guardsman should be aware of several rights that he has when facing these proceedings, in addition to his right to reject the NJP:
- He has the right to be intimated of the pending action as soon as the NJP process is initiated by the Officer in Charge.
- He can opt to be present at the proceedings where the Officer in Charge will be examining the charges.
- He can bring along a spokesperson to the proceedings.
- He can examine the evidence that is being used to prove that he committed an offense and he can present his own to show that he did not do so.
- He can examine witnesses who are called to prove his offense and call his own in his defense.
- He can appeal against the decision if he believes that the punishment is undeserved, disproportionate or that all the facts have not been considered.
If the individual chooses to accept the NJP proceeding, he is no longer able to request that a court martial be conducted to resolve the issue. By accepting the NJP the individual does not make an admission of guilt. Since this is not a criminal proceeding, there are no criminal convictions against the individual who faces NJP proceedings. However, in accepting NJP, the individual gives the Officer in Charge the responsibility of acting as judge and jury to decide the outcome of the process.
In turn, the Office in Charge is expected to take into consideration every fact placed forward by the accused and factor these in during decision making. Further, he is required to take all necessary actions to satisfy himself that the offense was actually committed by the accused.
WHAT KIND OF PUNISHMENT CAN BE IMPOSED UNDER NJP?
The rank of the accused, the rank of the accuser, circumstances of the case and many other factors play a part in determining the kind of NJP that is imposed. In general, this kind of punishment can range from confinement to quarters, confinement with limited rations, pay cuts or extra duty. There are limits on the duration of the confinements and on the amount of pay cuts that can be imposed as part of the NJP process.