The Army legal system forms the primary legal enforcement tool for the armed forces. Though similar to the civilian criminal justice system, the military justice system operates separately and is guided by the 1950ís Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) as interpreted and enforced by various military tribunals (Law Library, n.d.). Both commissioned and non-commissioned Officers (NCOs) fall under the jurisdiction of the Military Legal System. The differences separating commissioned from non-commissioned officers lie in their pay, authority, ranks, and duties. Enlisted NCOs such as corporals, sergeants (master, first class, and staff, all the way to sergeant major) undertake various NCO-specific responsibilities like military or tech policing, recruiting, and training (Sherman, 2018). These responsibilities are significantly different from those undertaken by commissioned Officers (management) such as colonel, lieutenant colonel, major, captain, and first lieutenant. In various instances, NCOs provide oversight and supervision for Privates, Specialists, and lower-ranking Officers. The military environment is not so much different from the general society where people may rub shoulders in the wrong way. The results of such interactions may lead to various consequences. Depending on the severity of actions committed, victims, perpetrators, and other involved parties may be required to appear before any of the three levels of the military court-martials (General, Special, and Summary). This paper will delve into some of the ways that NCOs interact with the Military Justice system.
The UCMJ is significantly different from civilian judicial systems. Through article 36 of the UCMJ, the President outlines the procedures ad rules that guide UCMJ implementation (Powers, 2017). The President guides this implementation by issuing executive orders as provided by Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM) (Powers, 2017). The same were used t guide the implementation of the FM 7-22.7 and AR 600-20 that stipulates an NCOs authority (Army Study Guide, 2014), responsibilities and duties; being accountable for what one does, or fails to do. NCOís primary responsibilities revolve around the execution of a mission, upholding Soldiersí welfare, training soldiers, maintaining state property, and maintaining discipline (Army Study Guide, 2014). An NCO is required to sufficiently understand the system they operate in. rank usually stipulates who addresses who in a typical installation. Nevertheless, there are several rights that every Soldier is entitled to, especially when undergoing a case process. The NCO is usually charged with informing Soldiers of their rights. These rights include the right to appeal; right to submit evidence in his/her mitigation, extenuation, and defense; the right to examine presented evidence and confront witnesses; right to demand trial by court-martial; and the right to remain silent (United States Army Military Police School, 2006). Concurrently, NCOs may be required to inform Soldiers of UCMJ articles they have been alleged to violate or the crimes they have allegedly committed; imposing commanderís intent on using summarized proceedings and imposable punitive measures; or imposing commanderís intent to use UCMJís Article 15.
NCOs are usually requested by their commanders to provide recommendations for the extents of punishment to be imposed, duration, and nature (type). The same is usually true if punitive action is being taken against an Officer as guided by the Court Martial and Article 15 (United States Army Military Police School, 2006). As such, the NCO plays an advisory role for senior Officers parsing judgments and sentences on Officers caught in the wrong. In other instances, the NCO may do more than just being an advisor by precipitating the actual discipline against offenders.
The imposition of Article 15 requires the personal judgment of an NCO. The NCO may also determine whether or not Article 15 takes prevalence on the case. If the former is true, the NCO then goes ahead to assess an Officerís guild and dispense an appropriate punishment. While the NCO may exercise such powers, s/he is prohibited from directing a subordinates Officer to impose an appropriate punitive measure for a given case, nature, or extent of punishment to be imposed. If such happens, the NCO will have improperly commanded influence (AR 27-10, paragraph 3-4) since the right to precipitate personal opinion/judgment on offenders is self-preserved (AR 27-10, paragraph 3-4). If an NCO feels that his/her authority is insufficient to impose appropriate punishment, s/he may forward the case to a higher field grade commander (United States Army Military Police School, 2006). It should also be noted that higher ranking Officers may withhold the authority of a subordinate Officer. As such, NCOs may find themselves without the authority Article 15 disseminates. Suppose a base commander has instructed that s/he will handle all cases involving NCOs, warrant Officers, and other Officers on the installation. In that case, the NCO's authority to handle such cases is stripped from him or her.
When a Soldier is found guilty of certain violations under the formal procedure, the commander decides the various characteristics of the punitive measures to e effected on the Officer. Usually, imposing commanders are advised to seek NCOs' consultations regarding the extents, duration, and type of punishment to be given. Concurrently, NCOs are also superbly suited to observe Soldiers undergoing punishments. As such, the NCOs clemency view should be taken under serious considerations (AR 27-10, paragraph 3-19a).
Army Study Guide. (2014).†Online Army Study Guide - NCO duties, responsibilities and authority | ArmyStudyGuide.com. Army Education Benefits Blog. https://www.armystudyguide.com/content/army_board_study_guide_topics/nco_duties/nco-duties-responsibiliti.shtml
Law Library. (n.d.).†Military Law - Military Criminal Justice System. Law Library - American law and legal information; Web Solutions LLC. Retrieved October 1, 2020, from https://law.jrank.org/pages/8564/Military-Law-Military-Criminal-Justice-System.html
Powers, R. (2017, December 12).†What is the Uniform Code of Military Justice?†The Balance. https://www.thebalancecareers.com/uniform-code-of-military-justice-ucmj-4057220
Sherman, F. (2018, June 28).†The differences between a Commissioned & Non-Commissioned Officer in the Army. Chron. https://work.chron.com/differences-between-commissioned-noncommissioned-officer-army-20793.html
United States Army Military Police School. (2006, March).†MP1017 Lesson - The Military Justice System. Unites States Army; Central Army Registry. https://rdl.train.army.mil/catalog-ws/view/100.ATSC/6BA2BB7D-31C2-4236-BE14-32007BD65E78-1308729633009/lsn.htm