UCMJ ARTICLE 127: EXTORTION
What Is Article 127 Of The UCMJ?
Article 127 of the UCMJ governs the charge of extortion as committed by service members of the United States Armed Forces. Extortion takes place when a service member communicates a threat in order to unlawfully obtain something of value or an advantage/acquittance/immunity.
If convicted, a service member could find themselves facing a dishonorable discharge, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, 3 years confinement and a reduction in rank to E-1. Such a punishment is problematic because “extortion” in the sense that higher ranks threaten junior ranks with “or else” punishments, takes place on a daily basis in the military.
“Extortion” also takes place in the dog-eat-dog world that is military culture where threats of violence also occur on a regular basis. So, when a 225 pound boot Lance Corporal threatens the 150 pound Corporal with extreme violence if he gets next to last fire watch again, in every sense of the word that is extortion. However, when it crosses a legal threshold or command just decided to arbitrarily take extortion seriously today, a good service member can find themselves on the wrong side of the UCMJ.
You have served your country honorably and at great cost, and been repaid with accusations of extortion. You deserve better. You deserve a fighting chance.
What Kind Of Threat Is Necessary To Prove Extortion Under Article 127?
As we mentioned, the military runs on threats of violence and/or denial of basic privileges to maintain military order and discipline. Platoon Sergeant threatens to put his boot so far up a PFC’s ass that he can taste it if he is late to formation again or a weekend pass is denied because the barracks room isn’t clean enough. So we need to dig into some definitions and define extortionaccording to the UCMJ.
Extortion – For a service member to be found guilty, the prosecution must satisfy the following two elements:
(1) That (state the time and place alleged), the accused communicated a certain threat to (state the name of the person to whom the threat was allegedly communicated), to wit: (state the language alleged), or words to that effect; and
(2) That the accused thereby intended to unlawfully obtain (something of value, to wit: ____) (an acquittance) (an advantage, to wit: __________) (an immunity, to wit: __________).
The UCMJ clarifies that the offense of extortion is complete when one wrongfully communicates a threat with the intent to obtain something of value. The actual or probable success of the extortion need not be proved. For example, in the movie Full Metal Jacket when Gunny Hartman tells recruit Joker that he will gouge out his eyes and skull f*ck him, the threat has been communicated without consideration for how practical that would be to have intercourse with his eye sockets.
The threat in extortion may be (a threat to do any unlawful injury to the person or property of the individual threatened or of any member of his/her family or any other person held dear to him/her) (a threat to accuse the individual threatened, or any member of his/her family or any other person held dear to him/her, of any crime) (a threat to expose or impute any deformity or disgrace to the individual threatened or to any member of his/her family or any other person held dear to him/her) (a threat to expose any secret affecting the individual threatened or any member of his/her family or any other person held dear to him/her or a threat to do any harm).
Can I Be Convicted Of Extortion Under Article 127 If I Was Joking?
As it pertains to declarations made in jest, a declaration made under circumstances which reveal it to be in jest or for an innocent or legitimate purpose or which contradicts the expressed intent to commit the act, is not wrongful. Nor is the offense committed by the mere statement of intent to commit an unlawful act not involving injury to another.
Now, the only problem is that commanders have a terrible sense of humor and the obvious jest or impracticality of the gesture isn’t enough to guarantee that they won’t come after you. This is particularly true if your command is fickle and insecure from the start. It is also true that those in your chain of command could be in their own trouble and pursuing extortion charges against you comes as a form of retaliation for your knowledge of the event.
An example would be a 2003 Marine platoon in Iraq that came under the frequent punishment and scrutiny of an insecure Elmer Fudd looking First Sergeant who disliked the platoon’s competence making him look bad. Every shit detail, the worst slums of Al Kut, Iraq is where this platoon would constantly find itself. Think Captain Sobel from Band of Brothers disliking Lieutenant Dick Winters.
That all ended when the platoon sergeant for this platoon came across the First Sergeants firearm that he left at the porta-potty. Whereas watching the First Sergeant search frantically for days was humorous, something needed to be done. The platoon sergeant presented the firearm and after a short conversation, the First Sergeant never messed with 2nd Platoon again. In every sense of the word, extortion took place and it is safe to say that extortion on this level takes place on a regular basis. Command structures are not innocent bystanders in the game of extortion.
How To Fight Back And Win Against Charges Of Extortion?
Extortion charges rarely involve just one individual and quite often, there are a host of UCMJ violations taking place amongst a large group of people, including higher enlisted and officers. You are going to have to fight like hell for your career and to make sure higher ranks are not making you the sacrificial lamb for what was somewhat condoned behavior.
This means if we need to get the platoon sergeant, first sergeant, or CO on the stands and tear them to pieces, so be it. Please don’t underestimate how far leaders you used to look up to will throw you under the bus when their career is on the line. You need representation that is willing to fight for you.
Again, extortion in one form or another is the oil that greases military life. You just may have taken it too far or misapplied it in the wrong context. You just have to understand that if you let the military justice system make an example out of you, they will take everything from you in the process of doing so. It doesn’t matter if you are 6 months from retirement as the more you lose the better example you make.
Remember, every extortion case requires both a threat and a beneficial outcome for the person making the threat. Prosecutors will need to prove both occurred to convict you under Article 127 of the UCMJ. And with the right defense team at your side, that’s easier said than done. To prepare for your case, we’ll perform a full investigation into the alleged extortion. Some of the avenues we may consider include:
- The nature of the threat.Does any direct evidence exist, such as witness testimony, recordings, a confession, etc.? Was the threat a joke made in poor taste, or some other miscommunication? How did the accused attain this power of extortion over the alleged victim? Is the threat grave enough that it could affect the livelihood of the alleged victim or his family?
- The nature of the benefit.Did the alleged victim act in a way which seemed odd during the time when he or she was being extorted? Could some other reason besides extortion be at play to explain certain actions? The threat itself may not be recorded and may never come to light. But prosecutors may be able to show how the alleged victim took a specific set of actions which directly benefited the accused. Which is why it’s so important for the defense to question the intent of those actions.
- The connection between the accused and the victim.How did the alleged victim and accused service member become acquainted? What was their relation up to and during the time that the extortion occurred? What reason would the accused have for betraying the trust of the alleged victim?
If you are under investigation or facing court martial for charges of extortion, reach out to us and we’ll shoot you straight on what you are facing. We’ll give you a free strategy defense session that you can use whether you choose to retain us or not. You have to get ready for a fight and it’s coming your way whether you like it or not. Reach out to us and get us into that fight. Don’t be the sacrificial lamb and take one for the team. Fight back and save your career, freedom, and retirement from abuse and misuse of the UCMJ.
Bilecki Law Group will help you fight back against charges under Article 127: Extortion
Frequently Asked Questions About Article 127
For service members convicted of extortion, Article 127 suggests a maximum punishment which includes:
- Reduction to E-1
- Forfeiture of all pay and allowances
- Confinement for 3 years
- Dishonorable discharge
Any mention of violence brought against another person or a member of that person’s family, or any information, such as a secret, which could disgrace another person or a member of that person’s family, is considered a threat by the Manual for Court Martial and would fall under charges of extortion.