What is the UCMJ?
The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is the foundation for the military justice system, that all servicemembers are subject to. The authority of Congress to enact the UCMJ ( 10 U.S.C. §§801-946) is provided in the United States Constitution in Article I, Section 8, which provides that “The Congress shall have Power . . . To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of land and naval forces.” Prior to the UCMJ being enacted by Congress on 5 May 1950, the armed forces operated under the Articles of War, originally established by the Second Continental Congress.
The UCMJ along with the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM) and the Military Rules of Evidence form the core of the military justice system and its operation. The UMCJ contains twelve subchapters that detail everything from apprehension and restraint, non-judicial punishment, court martial, trial proceedings, punitive articles, to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
The UCMJ contains a complete set of criminal laws, found in the punitive articles section, in which many mirror civilian criminal law. However the UCMJ in more encompassing because it goes on to punish other misconduct that impacts good order and discipline. (e.g. unauthorized absence, drinking liquor with a prisoner).
Article 15 of the UCMJ allows the commander to conduct non-judicial punishment. This section is used on a daily basis throughout the services in order to maintain good order and discipline. It allows the commander to address misconduct that rates more than a formal written counseling but does not rise to the level of a court martial.
Article 16 of the UCMJ defines the three types of courts martial which include, summary courts-martial, special courts martial, and general courts martial. This section of the UCMJ also lays out the structure of each type of courts martial. These are not standing courts, but rather convened at the discretion of the convening authority when an offense had been committed and needs to be addressed.
Subchapter X of the UCMJ contains the punitive articles of the UCMJ. The punitive articles cover almost all areas of civilian criminal law but define additional offenses which my effect good order and discipline. On of these articles in Article 133 which is conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentlemen. The UCMJ is also said to have a “catch all” Article which is Article 134, the general article. The Statute of the UCMJ specifically states, “Though not specifically mentioned in this chapter, all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and crimes and offenses not capital, of which persons subject to this chapter may be guilty, shall be taken cognizance of by a general, special, or summary court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense, and shall be punished at the discretion of that court.” (10 U.S.C. §934).
Retired members of the armed services who are receiving retirement pay are subject to the UCMJ.