NonJudicial Punishment (NJP) Article 15

Navigation NonJudicial Punishment towards the best possible outcome requires a series of tactical decisions made by experienced military defense attorneys. No two strategies are exactly the same and Bilecki crafts a tailor made NJP battle plan just for you.

What is NonJudicial Punishment (NJP) Article 15?

Some call it Article 15, others call it office hours. The Navy calls it Captain’s Mast. Lance Corporals in the Marine Corps simply call it the Ninja Punch. It doesn’t matter, because nonjudicial punishment by any other name is still an NJP. How you fight an NJP can mean the difference between being “staying hired or getting fired.”

It’s really no different than the tactical concept of fire and maneuver for the grunts or air to air combat for our pilots. Fighting an NJP requires your own set of tactics, of which there are many to choose from. Unfortunately, for many service members, an NJP is their first and only run in with the military justice system.

As such, they are like a boot storming a defensive position full of seasoned veterans. Make no mistake about it, the military justice system is built for efficiency. Your career, your accomplishments will be reduced to a binder, while junior government lawyers look forward to making a name off removing you from the service quickly and quietly.

How To Fight and Win Against NJP?

With each decision you make regarding your NJP, it opens up a series of doors which lead to a host of future decisions. One wrong turn early on and you may find yourself facing some damning odds. So let’s talk about the first decision you have to make.

Accept the NJP or Turn It Down: There is a common misconception that to accept an NJP is to take yourself out of the fight. That’s not true. In fact, unless there is compelling evidence that you are completely innocent and the charges are a sham, you are often better off accepting the NJP, Article 15 or Captain’s Mast. Turning it down could set you on a path towards a trial by court martial, and while there are scenarios where we advise this, the consequences of being wrong are much higher. If you are on a ship with the Navy, you have no choice but to accept the NJP, but that doesn’t mean you are out of the fight.

Plead Guilty or Not Guilty: When you accept an NJP, you are not admitting guilt. Rather, you are accepting nonjudicial punishment as the forum. This means your commander is now the judge and jury. Often, command will encourage you to plead guilty for a lesser consequence and they’ll threaten you with max punishment if you plead not guilty and fight. There is a lot on the line and to understand what is on the line, you need to know the max punishments.
Company Grade NJP (Imposed by a Captain (O-3) or Lieutenant):
  • Restriction: 14 days
  • Extra Duty: 14 days
  • Forfeiture of Pay: 7 days basic pay
  • Reduction in Rank: E-4 or below may be reduced one grade. No reduction for E-5 and above.
Field Grade (Battalion Level) NJP: (Given by a Major / Lieutenant Commander or higher):
  • Restriction: 60 days, or if combined with extra duty, 45 days
  • Extra duty: 45 days
  • Forfeiture of pay: half month’s basic pay for up to 2 months
  • Reduction in Grade: E-4 or below may be reduced to E-1; E-5 and E-6 may be reduced one pay grade if the officer imposing the punishment has the authority to promote to E-5 and E-6. Reduction for E-7 and above varies depending upon service.
Suspended Punishment: The imposing commander also has the authority to “suspend” some or all the punishment. If the punishment is suspended, the punishment will not be imposed for a set amount of time on the condition that the service member not commit any other violations of the UCMJ.

If you are asking yourself if commands really levy the max punishments, the answer is yes, they max out service members all the time. We know this only because we unfortunately have some uniformed personnel who only reach out to us after all this has taken place. Had they reached out earlier in the NJP process, we could have gotten them off the one way train towards max punishment.

The military justice system is not as “uniform” as the term “uniform code of military justice” suggests. Service members from all branches make bad, but human decisions every day. Some are court martialed, some will receive the max punishment NJP can impose, and some will receive letters of concern or instruction. It’s not necessarily about what each service member deserves. It’s about how he or she responds under the circumstances.

You may feel guilty. You may be made to feel guilty, but even taking responsibility for your actions does not have to mean volunteering to lose everything. It does not have to be a zero-sum game.

Plead Not Guilty to the NJP and Fight: Now, let’s cover the most common approach we recommend. That is to accept the NJP, plead not guilty, and fight. Remember, you are not speaking to a judge or jury, but your very own commander. For better or worse, commanders love to be masters of their own domain. Having a military lawyer as aggressive as Tim Bilecki arguing your case before them doesn’t always win their hearts and minds. That’s why we prepare you to speak up for yourself to the commander using some of the same tactics we would use in court if we were there.

It starts with getting a copy of all the evidence that they have against you and reviewing the charge sheet with you. This is where we get the opportunity to do our own investigation, and that can even mean calling witnesses. Again, it’s much like we would do at trial, but the stakes are much lower. We then put all the evidence together and package it up in a way that is going to make sense to your commander. Remember, he or she is not a lawyer, and there is even a chance he/she was once an enlisted Lance Corporal or Sailor making the same mistakes some 20 years earlier.
We then draft written matters so that you don’t just get sent in and then destroyed by a commander who doesn’t want to listen. The commander will get a read ahead of our written matters so that he or she can understand the facts and argument ahead of time. This is particularly important if you struggle to present them yourself in that forum. Now, here’s the important piece: you are going to half to speak up on your own behalf and that is easier said than done.

We’re going to prepare you with the full force of our law firm, but if you want to win, you will most likely have to speak. We’ll make sure you have character witnesses lined up to speak on your behalf as well. It is our experience that your average commander is not expecting you to walk in with such a comprehensive defense. They are often impressed if your case is compelling, but at the end of the day, it is up to them. They can find you guilty or not guilty. If they find you guilty, you can appeal to the next highest level of your command. But if you win – if you dodge this NJP bullet, it cannot be understated what a victory it is for you, your career, your reputation, and your family.

Special Ops, Turning Down an NJP And Avoid a Court Martial: We call this Special Ops, because if you try to pull this off without experience on your side, it’s going to be a massacre. However, there are certain scenarios where you can turn down an NJP or Article 15 and your service branch doesn’t pursue the court martial. That doesn’t mean there may not be consequences, but both the NJP and the court martial are avoided.

For this to work, you need to have a near certain winning cases to mitigate the risk. Also, you need to not be a United States Marine, because the Marine Corps will court martial you 99 times out of 100 if you turn down an NJP. With the Air Force and the Army, it is hit or miss if they will charge you. In the Navy, oftentimes they will not pursue court martial. Essentially, this is you calling their bluff and them backing down.

However, you still must be ready for adverse administrative actions. You can get a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand and find yourself facing an administrative separation board. There, depending on how long you’ve served, you may have the right to appear before that board and fight for your retention. A true win is when a service member turns down NJP, no court martial charges are preferred, the service member is taken to an administrative separation board, and the board members find no basis for misconduct and retain. This happens more often than you think, but you need to have the right set of facts, a strong will to win, and the right lawyer to defend you and walk you through the process. This is a complex and risky strategy that you should not attempt on your own. You need to have a full understanding of the potential consequences and COAs before you turn down an NJP or Article 15. Please, do not try this on your own.

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What Is the Right NJP Tactic For Me?

We’ve offered an array of tactics to consider, but the right set of tactics are the ones that are tailor made for the unique threat you face. Right now, there are a set of decisions that will guide you to the best possible outcome and a set of decisions that will navigate you to the chopping block behind the wood shed. What was right for your buddy who got an Article 15 or taken to Captan’s Mast last year may not be right for you. This is your career, and you must be willing to fight for it with the tactics that work for you. We leverage the sum of our experience in order to guide you to that best possible outcome. Much like combat, NJP is a fight and it is notoriously unkind to the unprepared and 2nd place finisher. We hope that you have found this helpful and if we can be of assistance, please reach out. We’ll shoot you straight, and if you are willing to fight, we’re ready to jump into the fight on your side.

Don’t just plead guilty… Fight Back !