Military Law 101: What is Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP)?
Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP) is known by different terms among the services, e.g., “Article 15,” “Office Hours,” of “Captain’s Mast.” In any case, the purpose of NJP is to discipline service members for minor offenses. So the next question is: What is a “minor offense?” Determining if an offense is “minor” is a matter of discretion for the commander imposing punishment. Typical examples include: reporting late for duty, petty theft, destroying government property, sleeping on watch, providing false information, and disobeying standing orders.
Although the actual punishments under an NJP offense are limited to confinement on diminished rations, restriction to certain specified limits, arrest in quarters, correctional custody, extra duties, forfeiture of pay, detention of pay and reduction in grade, the extent of these punishments depends on the grade of the officer imposing punishment, the grade of the accused, and whether the accused in attached to or embarked on a vessel.
Prior to the imposition of NJP, an accused is entitled to notification of the following: (i) that the imposition of NJP is being considered; (ii) a description of the alleged offenses; (iii) a summary of the evidence upon which the allegations are based; (iv) that the accused has the right to refuse the imposition of punishment; and (v) any rights the accused has if NJP is accepted.
Except for individuals attached to or embarked on a vessel, service members have the right to refuse the imposition of NJP. However, refusal of NJP will normally not result in the dismissal of charges. A commanding officer can still refer the charges to court-martial (stay tuned for an upcoming Blog about courts-martial).
An accused has the right to a personal appearance before the officer imposing punishment. During this appearance, the accused has the right against self-incrimination, the right to be accompanied by a spokesperson, the right to be informed of the evidence against him to present matters on his or her own behalf, and to have the proceedings open to the public.
An accused may waive a personal appearance, if agreeable to the officer imposing punishment, and submit written materials for consideration by the imposition authority. The Military Rules of Evidence, other than rules concerning privileges, do not apply to the imposition of NJP. The officer imposing punishment may consider all relevant matters so long as the accused has been given proper notice and the opportunity to respond. The burden of proof lies with the imposing officer and must be by a preponderance of the evidence.
The accused may appeal the imposition of NJP on the grounds that it is unjust or disproportionate to the alleged offense. The appeal must be in writing and forwarded to the next superior authority via the officer who imposed punishment. The appeal must be referred to a judge advocate (JAG) for consideration and advice before the authority who is to act on it may make any decision.