UCMJ Article 77: Principles
Article 77 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice defines no offense and specifies no punitive charges that may be brought against a service member. Its sole purpose is to “make clear that a person need not personally perform the acts necessary to constitute an offense to be guilty of it.”
Under Article 77 therefore, a Service Member could face charges under any of the articles of the UCMJ should any one of these be true:
- You’ve perpetrated the crime, meaning you directly took steps that went against an article of the UCMJ
- You assisted the perpetrator by aiding and abetting him or her by providing resources or assistance
- You’ve encouraged the perpetrator in some fashion—whether through counsel, advisement or command—prior to another individual committing the crime itself
Should prosecutors suspect your involvement in a crime under any of these conditions, you will likely be taken to court-martial and face the same level of sentencing regardless of your role. You will be a principal to the crime.
Even a minor connection to a crime could subject you to jail time and a dishonorable discharge. If you’ve been accused of a crime or suspect you will be by law enforcement, contact Bilecki & Tipon TODAY.
How Do I Know for Sure if I’ve Aided or Abetted or Assisted a Crime under the UCMJ?
Article 77 lays out guidelines for who may or may not be held criminally liable for charges under the punitive articles of the UCMJ. It names both the perpetrator along with all other parties with knowledge of the crime as individuals subject to a criminal offense.
The prosecution must suspect a service member of knowing about and/or assisting with the crime either before or during the criminal act to lodge charges against him or her.
According to Article 77 you have aided, abetted or assisted a crime if:
- You shared in the criminal purpose of design (i.e. you had something to gain from the crime’s outcome)
- You “assisted, encouraged, advised, instigated, counseled, commanded, or procured another to commit, or assist, encourage, advise, counsel, or command another in the commission of the offense.”
Note that your presence at the scene of the crime is not necessary for the government to convict you. If you are aware of the crime but in another country at the time it is committed, you are still liable as a principal of the crime and subject to the same sentencing as the perpetrator.
Defending Service Members with Article 77
Article 77 defines who may or may not be subject to a criminal offense under the UCMJ. It is extraordinarily important for the defense to review your alleged connection to the crime and compare it to Article 77. In some cases, you may not even be criminally liable for an offense at all, and you’ve simply been the unfortunate victim of overreach by a trigger-happy prosecution.
- It may be difficult, if not impossible, for the prosecution to prove you had knowledge of the crime.
- A defense investigation may provide key evidence or witnesses that raise questions over how much you knew before the crime was committed.
- Even if the evidence points toward your knowledge of the crime and you are ultimately convicted, we may be able to reduce sentencing based on the extent of your knowledge and the aid you provided to enact the crime.
You may be able to avoid charges entirely based on Article 77. If you have questions regarding your case and Article 77 of the UCMJ, contact an attorney at Bilecki & Tipon today.
Time is on the prosecution’s side, not yours. Contact Bilecki & Tipon today and defend yourself from the punitive articles of the UCMJ
Frequently Asked Questions About Article 77
How Does Article 77 Differ from Common Law?
Under article 77 of the UCMJ, no distinction exists between those who commit a crime and those who aid or abet a crime. If you’ve taken part in an illegal activity under the UCMJ in any fashion, you will be subject to the full punitive charges under that article. You will simply be known as a “principal” to that crime.
Under the Common Law of the United States, courts make a distinction between a principle of the first degree (the perpetrator), a principle of the second degree (the aider or abettor), and accessory before the fact (any individual that provides encouragement or aid before the crime is committed).
Despite distinguishing these concepts in different fashions, the results of a case are usually the same under the UCMJ.
Can I Be Charged with a Crime Under Article 77?
You cannot be charged under Article 77. Despite its being listed as a punitive article under the UCMJ, its sole purpose is to define who can and cannot be called a “principal” to a crime. It, therefore, governs all other punitive articles of the UCMJ and is unique in that regard.
Can My Military Defense Attorney Use Article 77 of the UCMJ to Show I Was Not a Principal?
Absolutely. Article 77 attempts to define the concepts surrounding the intent of an individual and the knowledge they had prior to or during a criminal act. The legal concepts outlined in Article 77 of the UCMJ can be used to defend our clients, proving to the finder of fact that they were in fact not a principal to the crime in question. In other cases, it can be utilized to mitigate the situation, often resulting in lower sentences based on an accused’ relation to the perpetrator and the role they played in the crime.