UCMJ ARTICLE 121: LARCENY & WRONGFUL APPROPRIATION

At Bilecki Law Group, we defend service members charged with larceny & wrongful appropriation under Article 121 of the UCMJ. 

What is Article 121 of the UCMJ?

Larceny and wrongful appropriation under article 121 of the UCMJ occurs when a service member wrongfully (took) (obtained) (withheld) certain property from the possession of the rightful owner. 

As it pertains to your defense against Article 121, the UCMJ requires that prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt a handful of core elements in order to convict you of this crime. An aggressive defense will force the prosecution to fight for every assumption during every step of the court martial process.

Bilecki’s defense philosophy regarding the elements needed to prove guilt under Article 121 is to give the prosecution nothing, but take from them everything. Given that Article 121 covers both larceny and wrongful appropriation, we’ll also ensure that the prosecution has no easy path to proving the higher charge of larceny over wrongful appropriation. 

What’s the Difference Between Larceny and Wrongful Appropriation Under Article 121 of the UCMJ

    Both larceny and wrongful appropriation require proof of the following:

    • The accused wrongfully (took) (obtained) (withheld) certain property that is taken from the possession of the rightful owner.
    • That the property belonged to the alleged owner.
    • That the property was of a certain value.

    The core difference between larceny and wrongful appropriation rests with the intent with which it was taken. 

   Wrongful appropriation under Article 121 uniquely requires:

    • That the (taking) (obtaining) (withholding) by the accused was with the intent of temporarily depriving or defrauding the owner of the use and benefit of the property or to temporarily appropriate the property for the accused’s own use or the use of someone other than the owner.
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    • That the property was (a) (an) (motor vehicle) (aircraft) (vessel) (firearm) (explosive) (military property of a value of more than $1,000).

  Larceny under Article 121 uniquely requires:

  • That the (taking) (obtaining) (withholding) by the accused was with the intent of permanently depriving or defrauding the owner of the use and benefit of the property or to permanently appropriate the property for the accused’s own use or the use of someone other than the owner.
  • That the property was (a) (an) military (property) (motor vehicle) (aircraft) (vessel) (firearm) (explosive) or (a) (an) (motor vehicle) (aircraft) (vessel) (firearm) (explosive).

   Larceny carries the heavier charge and the greater consequences if found guilty.

 

A Textbook Example of Wrongful Appropriation Under Article 121

On July 4th, 1986, Marine Lance Corporal Howard Foote found himself staring at an A-4M Skyhawk fighter while serving as a flight mechanic at MCAS El Toro. Now, Foote had always longed to become a pilot himself and pursuing the Corps’ enlisted commissioning program was his path to that end. However, he suffered an aerial embolism while flying at 42,500 feet in a glider which ended any hopes of becoming a commissioned pilot with the Marine Corps.

  • With his dreams crushed, Foote coped with the disappointment as any good Lance Corporal would. He wrongfully appropriated the A-4M Skyhawk fighter and took it for a joyride. He drove to the jet in a vehicle used to ferry pilots and even wore a flight suit to stay in character. Once the plane began to taxi, sentries tried to stop him to no avail.

  • Foote took off in the fighter jet and conducted a 50 minute joy ride over the Pacific Ocean. He conducted loops and barrel rolls while earning “legend” status among the Corps’ Lance Corporal Underground culture.  He then returned the $18 million dollar aircraft to El Toro where Marine MP’s were waiting for him.

  • In this case, it was clear that Foote was only temporarily denying the Marine Corps use of its fighter jet. Thus, wrongful appropriation was the particular charge at hand. While this might be the most legendary act of wrongful appropriation in the Corps, his guilt was undeniable. Remarkably, Foote walked away with just four and a half months served in the brig and an other than honorable discharge from the Marine Corps. 

Do not let accusations of theft destroy your military career and darken your civilian future. Fight back TODAY with the help of the financial fraud defense attorneys at Bilecki Law Group.  

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How To Fight Article 121 Charges Under the UCMJ

Regardless of how damning the prosecution or command makes the situation sound, you can fight and win against Article 121, UCMJ charges. This is true even if you did indeed “tactically acquire” a particular piece of property. In the early days of the Global Wars on Terror in both Iraq and Afghanistan, critical gear and supplies were in short supply and entire units made a cottage industry out of acquiring what they needed from within and outside the military supply system. There is always more to your story when it comes to article 121 charges and we are interested in the entire story, while the prosecution is only interested in the version that makes you look guilty. Approaches we might take include, but are not limited to the following:

Tear the prosecution and LEO’s handling of the case to shreds

  • It is a common theme that you will hear us repeat, but you cannot coexist with a military justice system that is out to destroy you. These guys make mistakes, and we’d like to tell you they are all honest mistakes, but that is not the case.
  • From the moment you are first under investigation, the chance that you will become the victim of willful negligence or intentional malice by the authorities ranges from possible to almost certainly. We give them nothing and seek to take from them everything. Regardless of how shiny the brass may be on a witness’s shoulder, we will shred them to bits on the cross examination because we know those mistakes exist.

Question the property and its value:

  • Just because your barracks buddy says his Rolex that he picked up for $20 bucks in the Ville is the real thing, doesn’t make it so. Property value is a key element of the case and we are going to make sure the prosecution gets away with no assumptions.
  • There may be a reasonable case that you believed the property was yours to begin with. Perhaps the owner let you borrow it and now they’re playing the Blue Falcon by trying to say you stole it. Again, the prosecution is going to try to get away with assumptions, but we make them prove it. No easy wins for the people trying to ruin your life.

Clarifying Your Intentions With the Property:

  • The buddy that steals your last can of dip in the field clearly has no intention of returning it. Screw him. But the guy who told you that you could borrow his car on weekend leave this weekend and forgot doesn’t get to report it stolen, only to have you pull back up at the barracks in time for formation.
  • This can mean the difference between the higher larceny charge and the lower wrongful appropriation. The prosecution doesn’t get to go for the higher charge just because they have a gut feeling. We’ll present the sum of your service as evidence that you are not the person who operates out of ill intent.

What Happens If I Don’t Fight Charges Under Article 121 of the UCMJ?

The military justice system exists for one purpose alone and, unfortunately, that purpose is not justice. It exists to preserve military order and for that work, they need to make an example out of someone. If you don’t fight, they will make that example out of you. It wouldn’t matter if you had an excellent career up until the charges. They need their example and if you present yourself as an easy target, they will take it.

The maximum punishments for larceny offenses under Article 121 are as follows:

 

  • Military property: Maximum punishment includes the reduction of E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, a dishonorable discharge, and 10 years of confinement.
  • Non-military property: Maximum punishment includes the reduction of E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, a dishonorable discharge, and 6 years of confinement.
A U.S. soldier in handcuffs
  • The maximum punishments for wrongful appropriation offenses under Article 121 are as follows:

     

    • Military property: Maximum punishment includes the reduction of E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, a dishonorable discharge, and 2 years of confinement.

     

    • Non-military property: Maximum punishment includes the reduction of E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, a dishonorable discharge, and 6 months of confinement.
  • Remember, you can find yourself facing multiple charges and the punishments are cumulative. If you don’t think the military dishes out the maximum punishments to maintain order, then you clearly haven’t been in the military for very long. It happens and it can absolutely destroy your life. If you let them, they will make an example out of you. So, how do you fight and how do you win?

  • The answer is that you fight them at every step of the process so that they understand that you are not an easy target. You’re not that guy and you are not going to go down without a fight. If you are facing charges under Article 121 of the UCMJ, reach out to us and we’ll show you exactly what you are facing. Then, as long as you are willing to fight, we’ll jump in the ring on your behalf. Yes, even if you wrongfully appropriate a military jet fighter. Lance Corporal Howard Foote, wherever you are, the team at Bilecki salutes you Sir.

Don’t just plead guilty… Fight Back !

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