The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is the U.S. military’s legal canon. It establishes laws which all service members of every branch of the armed forces are required to abide by. Altogether, the UCMJ contains over 100 unique punitive offenses, each with its own potential maximum sentence and some with a mandatory minimum sentence.
The Manual for Courts-Martial is the official handbook of the UCMJ. It describes the elements required to convict a service member of an offense, as well as a range of possible sentencing options if a soldier is convicted. The manual is freely available online for service members.
What Are the Articles in the UCMJ?
- Article 77: Principles
- Article 78: Accessory After the Fact
- Article 79: Conviction of Lesser Included Offense
- Article 80: Attempts
- Article 81: Conspiracy
- Article 82: Solicitation
- Article 83: Fraudulent Enlistment, Appointment, or Separation
- Article 84: Effecting Unlawful Enlistment, Appointment, or Separation
- Article 85: Desertion
- Article 86: Absence Without Leave
- Article 87: Missing Movement
- Article 88: Contempt Toward Officials
- Article 89: Disrespect Toward a Superior Commissioned Officer
- Article 90: Assaulting or Willfully Disobeying a Superior Commissioned Officer
- Article 91: Insubordinate Conduct Towards Warrant Officer, Noncommissioned Officer, Or Petty Officer
- Article 92: Failure To Obey Order Or Regulation
- Article 93: Cruelty And Maltreatment
- Article 94: Mutiny And Sedition
- Article 95: Resistance, Flight, Breach Of Arrest And Escape
- Article 96: Releasing Prisoner Without Proper Authority
- Article 97: Unlawful Detention
- Article 98: Noncompliance With Procedural Rules
- Article 99: Misbehavior Before The Enemy
- Article 100: Subordinate Compelling Surrender
- Article 101: Improper Use Of Countersign
- Article 102: Forcing A Safeguard
- Article 103: Captured Or Abandoned Property
- Article 104: Aiding The Enemy
- Article 105: Misconduct Of A Prisoner
- Article 106: Spies
- Article 106a: Espionage
- Article 107: False Official Statement
- Article 108: Military Property Of The U.S., Sale, Loss, Damage, Destruction, Or Wrongful Disposition
- Article 109: Property Other Than Military Property Of The U.S. - Waste, Spoilage, Or Destruction
- Article 110: Improper Hazarding Of Vessel
- Article 111: Drunken Or Reckless Operation Of Vehicle, Aircraft Or Vessel
- Article 112: Drunk On Duty
- Article 112a: Wrongful Use, Possession, Etc., Of Controlled Substances
- Article 113: Misbehavior Of Sentinel Or Lookout
- Article 114: Dueling
- Article 115: Malingering
- Article 116: Riot Or Breach Of Peace
- Article 117: Provoking Speeches Or Gestures
- Article 118: Murder
- Article 119: Manslaughter
- Article 119a: Death Or Injury Of An Unborn Child
- Article 120: Rape And Sexual Assault Generally
- Article 120a Stalking
- Article 120b: Rape And Sexual Assault Of A Child
- Article 120c Other Sexual Misconduct
- Article 121: Larceny And Wrongful Appropriation
- Article 122: Robbery
- Article 123: Forgery
- Article 123a: Making, Drawing, Or Uttering Check, Draft, Or Order Without Sufficient Funds
- Article 124: Maiming
- Article 125: Forcible Sodomy Or Bestiality
- Article 126: Arson
- Article 127: Extortion
- Article 128: Assault
- Article 129: Burglary
- Article 130: Housebreaking
- Article 131: Perjury
- Article 132: Frauds Against The United States
- Article 133: Conduct Unbecoming An Officer And Gentleman
Article 134 Offenses
- Animal Abuse
- Bribery And Graft
- Burning With Intent To Defraud
- Check, Worthless, Making And Uttering
- Child Endangerment
- Child Pornography
- Correctional Custody
- Drunk Prisoner
- Drunkenness, Incapacitation For Performance Of Duties
- False Or Unauthorized Pass Offense
- False Pretenses, Obtaining Services Under
- False Swearing
- Firearm, Discharging Through Negligence
- Impersonating A Commissioned, Warrant, NonCommissioned, Or Petty Officer Or An Agent Or Official
- Indecent Language
- Indecent Conduct
- Jumping From Vessel Into The Water
- Mail: Taking, Opening, Secreting, Destroying, Or Stealing
- Misprision Of A Serious Offense
- Obstructing Justice
- Pandering And Prostitution
- Parole, Violation Of
- Perjury, Subornation Of
- Public Record: Altering, Concealing, Removing, Mutilating, Obliterating Or Destroying
- Quarantine: Medical, Breaking
- Reckless Endangerment
- Restriction, Breaking
- Seizure; Destruction, Removal, Or Disposal Of Property To Prevent
- Self-Injury Without Intent To Avoid Service
- Sentinel Or Lookout: Offenses Against Or By
- Soliciting Another To Commit An Offense
- Stolen Property: Knowingly Receiving, Buying, Concealing
- Testify: Wrongful Refusal
- Threat Of Hoax Designed Or Intended To Cause Panic Or Public Fear
- Threat, Communicating
- Unlawful Entry
- Weapon: Concealed, Carrying
- Wearing Unauthorized Insignia, Decoration, Badge, Ribbon, Device, Or Lapel Button
- Wrongful Interference With An Adverse Administrative Proceeding
What Is the Purpose of the Uniform Code of Military Justice?
The purpose of the UCMJ is to ensure order is faithfully maintained among
the ranks of
the United States military, to establish rules which govern the conduct of military service members
in wartime and peacetime, and to initiate punishment in the event that
a soldier acts in a manner that goes against those rules.
The military requires service members to perform duties that a civilian would rarely—if ever—be requested to carry out. Military service members have unique responsibilities; failing in those responsibilities may have severe consequences. It’s for this reason that the military has a separate justice code—to ensure that service members conduct themselves in a way that would not bring dishonor or harm to the military or to the country.
Many of the article offenses do not have civilian counterparts. They are specific to the circumstances of military life and military duties. And they are in place to ensure order is maintained among the ranks and fair punishment is meted out in the event that those rules are broken.
Are Civilians Subject to the UCMJ?
Civilians have their cases tried in civil and criminal courts that fall under state or federal jurisdiction. They are rarely subject to the laws and sentencing found under the UCMJ and are therefore not often seen as defendants in a general court-martial or summary court-martial.
Some exceptions may include:
- A civilian contractor working in a foreign country on a military base may be tried in military courts (a military contractor for example).
- The dependents of a service member who accompany the soldier overseas may be subject to military courts (as was the case of Madsen v. Kinsella, where an Air Force lieutenant was killed by his wife while he was stationed in Germany).
- Certain offenses (such as espionage) may fall under the military’s jurisdiction.
- Martial law goes into effect.
With those exceptions in mind, it is still quite rare for a civilian to be tried in a military court. This is true for offenses which are found under both criminal and UCMJ law codes (such as murder or driving under the influence), and it is true for veteran members of the armed forces (UNLESS that veteran is receiving retirement benefits, in which case they are still under UCMJ jurisdiction).
When Was it Created?
The Uniform Code of Military Justice was signed into law by Harry S. Truman
on May 6th, 1950. It was the first military code of law passed by Congress
which encompassed every branch of America’s armed forces: the Army,
the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Air Force. Prior to the UCMJ, the United
States relied on aging congressional laws known as the Articles of War,
which had governed the military’s legal justice system for over
The UCMJ has seen a number of revisions over the last 68 years, and the Manual for Courts-Martial has been updated a half a dozen times since 2000.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Articles Exist?
There are 146 articles in the U.C.M.J, along with 12 sub-articles, bringing the number to 158. Not all of these articles are punitive. Some define legal concepts and review jurisdictions and have nothing to do with an offense. Some, such as Article 77, define who may or may not be held criminally liable as a principal of a particular crime. There are 61 punitive articles within the UCMJ: Articles 77 to 134.
What Is the Maximum Sentence Possible?
Death is the maximum possible sentence that a military court can give out. With that said, every punitive article proposes a range of sentencing, and the death penalty is quite rare. Some articles, such as Article 118 for Murder, carry with it the possibility of the death sentence or life sentence in prison without the opportunity for parole.
Where Can I Find Information About the Punitive Articles of the UCMJ?
The Manual for Courts Martial provides maximum punishments, rules of evidence and what constitutes a violation of each article under the U.C.M.J. You can also find information specific to each Article of the UCMJ here on the Bilecki & Tipon website.