Common Legal Terms in Military Law

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Military Law has its own vocabulary. Here are some commonly used terms and their definitions.

Accused – the defendant.

Article 15 – Non-judicial punishment imposed by a commanding officer. Also may be referred to as “NJP”, “Mast”, and “Office hours”, depending upon the service. A person subjected to Article 15 punishment can refuse it in certain cases, which may lead to a court-martial. A court-martial cannot be refused. Refers to Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (the “UCMJ”) found at 10 U.S.C. 815.

Article 32 – A formal investigation required before a case may be referred to a general court-martial. Sort of like a grand jury, but the accused gets to attend and participate. Refers to Article 32 of the UCMJ, 10 U.S.C. 832. Can be waived.

BCD – Bad Conduct Discharge, the “Big Chicken Dinner.” Next to worst type of punitive discharge.

Convening Authority – Commanding officer of an organization who convenes or authorizes a courts-martial. Sort of like a district attorney but not a lawyer. See UCMJ Art. 22 – 24, 10 U.S.C. 822- 824.

DD – Dishonorable Discharge. The worst type of punitive discharge.

General Court-Martial (GCM) – the most serious court-martial, can award any authorized punishment, including death in capital cases. Requires a Military Judge, at least 5 members, trial and defense counsel. This is sort of like a State Superior Court or Trial Division of a Supreme Court – it gets the big felony cases. UCMJ Art. 16 and 18, 10 U.S.C. 816 and 818.

Members – members of the court – the jury.

Military Judge – a senior military attorney appointed by the Judge Advocate General to serve as judge in a court-martial. Works directly for the Judge Advocate General and is thus independent of the military chain of command. UCMJ Art. 1 and 26, 10 U.S.C. 801 and 826.

Special Court-Martial (SPCM) – Two types – BCD and non-BCD. BCD special can award 6 months confinement, 6 months forfeiture of pay and a BCD (“Six, Six, and a Kick”). Military judge, at least 3 members, trial and defense counsel. A non-BCD special cannot award a BCD. Sort of like a State District Court that tries less cases and can provide relatively limited punishment. UCMJ Art. 16 and 19, 10 U.S.C. 816 and 819.

Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) – legal advisor to the convening authority. Usually works directly for the convening authority. Sort of like a district attorney in function, but final decisions are made by the convening authority. Usually a senior military lawyer with extensive experience. May supervise a large staff of attorneys, including trial counsels, but not defense counsel. UCMJ Art. 34 and 60(d), 10 U.S.C. 834 and 860(d).

Summary Court-Martial (SCM) – One officer court, no military judge, very limited punishment – 30 days confinement. Can be refused in some circumstances – which will often get you a Special Court-Martial – an offer you cannot refuse. Sort of like a Justice of Peace or Magistrates Court. UCMJ Art. 16 and 20, 10 U.S.C. 816 and 820.

TJAG – The Judge Advocate General. Top military lawyer of the service concerned. Either a general or admiral. There are some differences for the Marine Corps and Coast Guard, but they do not matter in practice. UCMJ Art. 1, 10 U.S.C. 801.

Trial Counsel – prosecutor.

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