What is the UCMJ?
Service members who are facing military criminal charges are likely to hear many references to the “UCMJ.” For those who are new to the military criminal justice process, this acronym may be confusing. What is the UCMJ, and how should you respond when you hear you’ve been arrested or charged with a violation under it?
UCMJ stands for “Uniform Code of Military Justice.” Established by the U.S. Congress, the UCMJ defines and governs a wide range of activities for which service members can face criminal charges. It also sets out basic rules for courts-martial and other legal proceedings and covers other related topics.
Some of the crimes listed in the UCMJ are similar to criminal charges that can be brought against civilians. For instance, many violent acts like assault and homicide are prohibited by the UCMJ, as are thefts, forgery, and similar acts.
Because the UCMJ specifically addresses military conduct, however, it also covers a wide range of activities that have no similar civilian legal prohibition. These include desertion, absence without leave (AWOL), disobeying a commanding officer, and other actions.
An arrest or charge under the UCMJ is serious. It is a criminal charge, and it should be treated like one. Just as you would seek the help of an attorney if you were charged with a crime under state or federal civilian law, you should seek the help of an experienced military criminal defense lawyer if you face suspicion, arrest, or charges under the UCMJ. A military criminal defense attorney who works in private practice can work alongside your Government-appointed attorney to ensure that your rights are protected and you can make the strongest possible case on your own behalf.