UCMJ Article 78: Accessory After The Fact
At Bilecki Law Group, we defend service members against charges of accessory after the fact under Article 78 of the UCMJ. We know the prosecution is making assumptions about your actions and we’ll fight to expose those assumptions for all to see.
What Is Article 78 Of The UCMJ?
A crime of Accessory After The Fact takes place under Article 78 of the UCMJ when a separate offense punishable by the UCMJ was committed by another service member and the accused knew that service member had committed a crime. The accused then received, comforted, or assisted that service member for the purpose of hindering, preventing, the apprehension, trial, or punishment of that service member.
To say it in more plain language, a service member committed an offense punishable by the UCMJ and the prosecution thinks you tried to help them get away with it. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t actually commit the crime, but under Article 78 of the UCMJ you can be charged with the maximum authorized punishment for that crime with a few exceptions.
This means you are convicted of being an accessory after the fact for a murder case, they are going to punish you like the murderer. If you are convicted under Article 78 for a sexual assault case, they are going to punish you like a rapist. If you are six months from retirement and the prosecution thinks you helped your buddy cover up a relatively minor offense, they will come for your retirement and take everything from you.
What Does It Take To Convict Under Article 78 Of The UCMJ?
As stated earlier, there are four elements that are required to convict you of accessory after the fact under Article 78 and they are as follows, straight from the UCMJ:
- That (state the alleged offense), an offense punishable by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, was committed by (state the name of the principal) at (state the time and place alleged)
- That the accused knew that (state the name of the principal) had committed such offense
That the accused thereafter (state the time and place alleged) [(received) (comforted) (assisted)] (state the name of the principal) by (state the manner alleged)
That the accused [(received) (comforted) (assisted)] (state the name of the principal) for the purpose of [(hindering) (preventing)] the [(apprehension) (trial) (punishment)] of (state the name of the principal).
Now, here is the part that is going to show you how serious the military justice system takes accessory after the fact. If they charge you with accessory after the fact for helping your buddy and your buddy hires a top notch military defense attorney and is acquitted of his crime, the government can still prosecute you and convict you under Article 78. This means your buddy walks away free and you lose your career and freedom.
What’s The Worst That Can Happen If Convicted Under Article 78?
The worst that can happen to you under Article 78 is completely relative to the max punishment allowed by the UCMJ for the original crime. This means that if the principal offense committed by your buddy comes with reduction in rank to E-1, dishonorable discharge, and total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, they can take the same from you even though you didn’t commit the crime. They committed the murder, you hid the knife, and now you are treated like the murderer even IF they are somehow acquitted for the actual murder.
This is because the military justice system was not designed to pursue justice. The military justice was designed to preserve order and military discipline. To do this, they need to make an example out of someone and if they can’t make that example out of the person who committed the crime, they are happy to make that example out of you. It still scares the rest of the service members and that’s all they are really chasing.
Thankfully, there are a few exceptions to the max punishment rule that will at least save your life. The death penalty is not authorized for Article 78 and no more than ½ of the authorized confinement and no more than 10 years of confinement. So you won’t die and you won’t spend more than 10 years in confinement, but consider the rest of your life destroyed if they convict you or your attorney can’t ensure a more favorable outcome. That’s how seriously you must take this charge and that’s why you must fight like hell to regain your life.
Service Members Are Uniquely Vulnerable To Charges of Accessory After The Fact
If you have spent enough time in the military, you know that violations of the UCMJ take place every single day and often by excellent and reputable service members. There are an enormous amount of regulations in the military and the UCMJ allows you to be prosecuted for violating any of them. On top of that, the UCMJ is rarely enforced with consistency from command to command. That means a service member could find themselves running afoul of military law and not even know it and you could find yourself an accessory more often than you imagine.
Then, you add to the fact that military culture emphasizes taking care of your fellow service members and watching each other’s back. When you’re downrange in country and your buddy kicks in a door, you follow him, no questions asked. When he fires into a brush covered crevasse, you fire without thinking twice.
This is military culture and when it comes to accessory after the fact, it’s rare your buddy comes in with a bloody knife and says, “hide this.” It’s much more obscure than that, but the military justice system does not care. They must have their example to scare others and if you give them any opportunity to make an example out of you they will do so without hesitation. Your only choice if you are under investigation or facing charges under Article 78 is to fight.
How To Fight And Beat Charges Under Article 78 Of The UCMJ?
The prosecution is going to try and make it obvious that you knew there was a crime, and you were trying to help your buddy escape like Bonnie and Clyde. They want to convict you so bad that they are going to make assumptions about your knowledge and intent that we are going to destroy at trial. A great deal of their case likely hinges on speculation, and we are going to expose that for all to see.
We’re going to put together our own investigation and not rely on the evidence accumulated by military investigators who were equally focused on your guilt rather than the facts. Remember, silence does not make you an accessory after the fact. That you didn’t rat out your buddy is not a crime as you must actively assist the offender in some fashion.
We will fight the military prosecution at every turn and give them no easy wins. Remember, if you let them make an example out of you they will do so with a smile on their faces. Again, it doesn’t matter if your buddy is eventually acquitted of the crime. If anything, that fuels them all the more to get their necessary example out of you. If you are facing charges under Article 78, then reach out to us and get us into the fight. We don’t play nice with the prosecution because we don’t care about our military careers like a free JAG defender. We exist to protect your career. We exist to fight for your freedom. We exist to win. Don’t lay down and let the military justice system make an example out of you. Stand up and fight like everything is on the line, because it is.