Nonjudicial Punishment, Article 15, Captain's Mast
The quick and easy way your CO is trying to punish you
Nonjudicial punishment is a form of military justice authorized by Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This type of discipline is typically referred to as Article 15 in the Army and Air Force, Captain's Mast in the Navy and Coast Guard, and NJP in the Marine Corps. Commanding Officers commonly offer this type of discipline to service members accused of low level infractions as it allows the CO to handle the case quickly without having to go through the long formalities of a court-martial. Since this type of disposition is less formal, the maximum punishments are lower, but so is the burden of proof required (preponderance of the evidence). What is interesting about this type of proceeding is that it is completely up to the servicemember whether or not to accept or reject the offering of nonjudicial punishment. In fact, it is often beneficial to refuse to accept nonjudicial punishment when the charges are very minor or the evidence is very weak because it might not be worth the time, money, and effort for the CO to pursue the charges at a court-martial. If the servicemember accepts the nonjudicial punishment, the servicemember is still free to present evidence to show innocence or to reduce the punishment. If you are offered nonjudicial punishment, Booker Rights are triggered and you should absolutely discuss them with the military defense counsel aboard your installation before deciding whether or not to accept nonjudicial punishment. Booker Rights include:
- The right to refuse mast (unless attached to or embarked on a vessel). See Article 15, UCMJ.
- The right to confer with an independent attorney.
- The right to appear personally before the CO or OIC.
- The right to be informed of your Article 31b, UCMJ rights. (See above.)
- The right to be accompanied by a spokesperson. This is a person you want to speak on your behalf — a spokesperson is different than having a witness present.
- The right to be informed of the evidence against you relating to the offense.
- The right to examine all evidence upon which the CO will rely in deciding about whether and how much NJP to impose.
- The right to present matters in defense, extenuation and/or mitigation, orally, in writing or both.
- The right to have witnesses present. The accused is generally the one who must arrange for the witnesses to attend
- The right to appeal a CO’s decision at mast. See Article 15(e), UCMJ for details. In general you can appeal on the grounds the punishment was unjust or disproportionate. The appeal should be “prompt” (within five days) and directed to the next superior authority via the “proper channels” (chain of command). See Part V of the MCM for “set aside” procedures where “a clear injustice” has occurred.