Article 120 is the military statute which defines rape, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated sexual contact, and abusive sexual contact.  These offenses include different types of unlawful, forced sexual activities on another person.  Charges related to sexual misconduct involving a minor fall under Article 120b.

The Department of Defense can charge any active duty or reserve service member with an Article 120 offense.  Article 120 makes no distinction between accusers who are members of the military and civilians.  These charges are serious and require a strong defense.  Service members convicted under Article 120 face strict punishment.  Depending on the nature of the crime and the outcome of the court-martial, defendants found guilty can receive a sentence as harsh as life imprisonment without parole.

If found guilty of an Article 120 offense, the service member will receive a dishonorable discharge as required by law.  Guilty defendants may be required to register as a convicted sex offender and remain on the national public registry for the remainder of their lives.  The counsel of a reliable military lawyer can help to diminish punishment.

Sexual assault within the military is a topic which has gained public scrutiny over the last few years.  With that scrutiny, the Department of Defense is under growing pressure for reform with harsher penalties against service members convicted under Article 120.  This pressure is not isolated to any particular area of the military, and service members of any rank in any branch can face aggressive prosecution under Article 120.

Recently, the House of Representatives passed a measure to enforce a mandatory minimum sentence of two years imprisonment and dismissal or dishonorable discharge for service members convicted of rape or sexual assault under the UCMJ. In the event that the measure becomes part of a larger bill, accused service members will face tougher penalties at court-martial.

Article 120 rape and aggravated sexual assault

Article 120 rape applies to defendants accused of committing a sexual act which includes

  • The exertion of unlawful force
  • Exertion of force that has caused or would be likely to cause death or serious harm to another person
  • Placing or threatening to place another person in fear of death, grave bodily harm, or kidnapping
  • Rendering the other person unconscious
  • Administering without the knowledge of the other person, or through force or threat, any substance that can substantially render the person incapable of assessing or controlling conduct

Article 120 sexual assault applies to defendants accused of committing a sexual act under circumstances which include

  • Threatening another person or imposing fear
  • Fraudulently representing the sexual act as a professional duty
  • Misrepresentation of his or her own identity
  • Without consent
  • Having committed the sexual act on another person who is asleep, unconscious, or otherwise unaware of the sexual act
  • Causing the person any form of bodily harm

Article 120 sexual assault also applies in cases when the accused commits the sexual act upon another person who is unable to grant consent due to

  • Impairment with any intoxicant
  • Physical or mental disability of which the accused is aware or ought to reasonably be

Article 120 aggravated sexual contact and abusive sexual contact

Article 120 also defines aggravated sexual contact and abusive sexual contact.  These crimes are serious charges which have a lower degree of severity than rape.

Aggravated sexual contact is an offense which applies to service members accused of causing sexual contact upon another person under circumstances which would otherwise meet the conditions of rape if the sexual contact had also been a sexual act.

Abusive sexual contact is an offense which applies to service members accused of causing sexual contact upon another person under circumstances which would otherwise meet the conditions of aggravated sexual assault if the sexual contact had also been a sexual act.

Penalties for Article 120 Charges

Under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), there are serious penalties for sexual misconduct. All service members convicted of rape or sexual assault will face a dishonorable discharge or a bad conduct discharge accompanying the forfeiture of all pay, allowances, and veteran benefits.

Service members who receive a dishonorable discharge will likely struggle to find employment and will forfeit their right to own firearms.

Service members convicted of Article 120 rape face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole in addition to their aforementioned discharge and forfeiture of benefits.

Service members convicted of Article 120 aggravated sexual assault face a maximum sentence of 30 years imprisonment in addition to their aforementioned discharge and forfeiture of benefits.

Service members convicted of Article 120 aggravated sexual contact face a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment.

Service members convicted of Article 120 abusive sexual contact face a maximum sentence of 7 years imprisonment.

Unfortunately, families of the accused also suffer a long ordeal culminating with the final verdict, which must be respected and accepted. It doesn't have to be all doom and gloom – your military lawyer can protect your rights in a situation where all fingers are firmly pointed in your direction.


Joseph Jordan is a military criminal defense lawyer who vigorously represents service members in court-martial.  Serious charges such as rape and other sexual misbehavior require excellent arguments with a compelling presentation of evidence in your defense.  Joseph Jordan is a former Army Judge Advocate who has successfully defended service members in numerous court-martials against rape and sexual assault.  A seasoned military lawyer of his caliber can provide exceptional legal counsel and challenge the prosecution’s claim.

Building your defense may initially seem overwhelming.  The support of an experienced military lawyer can ease the burden of your case.  The quality of your representation greatly affects the quality of your result.  The unwavering support of an experienced military lawyer like Joseph Jordan can help you obtain an outcome in your favor.  Operating out of Killeen, Texas, Jordan applies his experience and in-depth knowledge of this practice area to defend your rights.

Joseph Jordan understands that an Article 120 accusation is heavy, troublesome, and stressful for service members and their families.  With his counsel, our firm can help ease the stress and anxiety which accompany these accusations.  If you are facing charges under the UCMJ Article 120, Rape and Sexual Assault Generally, consider enlisting the services of Joseph Jordan to help beat your case.

Contact the firm today by calling (833) 884-2715 or filling out the online contact form you see here.

The military takes all sex crimes very seriously. Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) outlines specific definitions and consequences for different types of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault and sexual contact. If you have been charged with an Article 120 violation, the information here will help you understand exactly what you’ve been accused of so you can begin building a defense strategy.

How Article 120 Defines Sexual Misconduct

The UCMJ categorizes sexual offenses into multiple categories, each with specific criteria and implications.

  • Rape under the UCMJ is defined as engaging in a sexual act with another person by using unlawful force, threats, or incapacitation. This includes penetration of any kind without consent.
  • Sexual assault is somewhat broader, encompassing any non-consensual sexual act, characterized by the use of force, threats, manipulation, intimidation, abuse of authority, or coercion, or while the victim is incapacitated due to substances or unable to consent due to mental or physical conditions.
  • Aggravated sexual contact involves sexual contact (as opposed to a sexual act) under circumstances that would constitute rape if it were a sexual act.
  • Abusive sexual contact refers to sexual contact that would be considered sexual assault if it escalated to a sexual act.

Distinguishing Between Sexual Assault and Sexual Contact

The nuanced definitions of sexual assault and sexual contact can be confusing, but it’s important for military service members to understand the difference, as these terms define the severity of offenses and punishments under the UCMJ.

Sexual assault is one of the more severe categories of sexual offenses, second only to rape. It is distinct from sexual contact because it requires a sexual act, which is more invasive and severe than sexual contact. Sexual assault can include a wide range of behaviors, from penetration without consent to attempts to commit this act. The lack of consent is the central element, alongside the presence of coercion or physical force.

Sexual contact is defined broadly under the UCMJ as the intentional touching, or causing another person to touch, the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person. This action must be done with intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire. Sexual contact encompasses a range of behaviors that do not involve penetration but are still considered invasive and non-consensual. As with sexual assault, consent is a key factor in determining whether an act is lawful sexual contact or constitutes an offense under the UCMJ.

Maximum Possible Punishments for Article 120 Violations

Article 120 doles out severe punishments for sexual offenses, reflecting the military’s zero-tolerance policy toward such conduct. The consequences of a conviction under Article 120 depend on the severity and nature of the offense.

  • Rape is met with the harshest penalties. If convicted, an individual faces forfeiture of all pay and allowances, confinement for life without the possibility of parole, and a mandatory minimum sentence that includes officer dismissal or a dishonorable discharge for enlisted personnel.
  • Sexual assault punishments include forfeiture of all pay and allowances and confinement for up to 30 years. Similar to rape, a mandatory minimum sentence involves officer dismissal or a dishonorable discharge for enlisted members.
  • Aggravated sexual contact is punishable by forfeiture of all pay and allowances, up to 20 years of confinement, and a dishonorable discharge.
  • Abusive sexual contact consequences include forfeiture of all pay and allowances, confinement for up to seven years, and a dishonorable discharge.

Navigating Sexual Assault or Sexual Contact Accusations

Service members accused of sexual assault or sexual contact face daunting prospects, including non-judicial punishment, administrative separation, or court-martial. The implications of these accusations extend far beyond potential legal penalties to include a damaged reputation, the end of your military career, and personal and familial distress.

Potential defense strategies are as varied as the circumstances surrounding each case. Some common approaches include:

  • Challenging the credibility of the evidence presented, including inconsistencies in the accuser’s testimony or potential issues with how evidence was collected or handled
  • Examining the context of the alleged incident, seeking to establish a lack of intent or demonstrate that the actions were consensual
  • Focusing on the character and service record of the accused, presenting evidence of good character and exemplary service as mitigating factors
  • Pointing out procedural errors made during the investigation or charging process

Contact a Military Defense Lawyer

The best way to navigate sexual assault or sexual contact accusations is to team up with an experienced military attorney. Receiving legal counsel from someone with a comprehensive understanding of the military justice system is the key to formulating a strong defense.

Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law, proudly advocates for service members in challenging legal situations. Mr. Jordan draws from over a decade of defense experience, preceded by years of service as an enlisted Soldier and Army JAG officer. Our legal team’s successful track record of handling complex court-martial cases demonstrates our ability to defend our clients aggressively. To discuss your case directly with Mr. Jordan, please call us toll-free at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411.


5 / 5 stars
Joseph Jordan is a very knowledgeable and aggressive lawyer who will fight for your case tooth and nail, and I highly recommend him for military cases. He represented my long-term boyfriend, a lieutenant falsely accused of rape, and he won our case so that my boyfriend got off with no repercussions. I worked with Mr. Jordan over the phone and multiple times in person to prepare as a witness in the trial, and I was impressed by how prepared he was and how intimately he knew the details and intricacies of our case. He answered all of my questions and made sure I understood exactly my role and how the process worked so I felt comfortable and prepared. Mr. Jordan is admittedly aggressive and brusque, but he is a GREAT lawyer who understands the military legal system inside and out and very importantly, he consistently wins tough cases. His services were expensive, but the cost was worth it for us to attack the false accusations and move forward with our lives and careers. I am SO glad we hired Joseph Jordan, and although I hope to never be in a situation like this again, I would hire him again in a heartbeat.
- Alyssa Barnes

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Joseph L. Jordan is a UCMJ lawyer who travels around the globe to represent service members in military criminal defense matters. He is an accomplished, experienced military attorney who specializes in defending ALL service members against violations of the UCMJ.