NonJudicial Punishment (NJP) Article 15
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.
How To Fight and Win Against NJP?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.