The accused’s military unit handles most infractions of the UCMJ. Information on the offenders’ past performance and general character, if positive, can result in the case being handled at the lowest judicial level or through administrative procedures that have less career impact.
On the other hand, punishments in the military justice system such as official letters of reprimand, which outsiders frequently characterize as meaningless slaps on the wrist, can destroy a career, particularly for officers.
And, because of the nature of military service, military personnel can be punished for actions that are not crimes in the civilian world, although they could get you fired.
They include such offenses as unauthorized absence – not showing up for duty — and its aggravated version, desertion, which involves longer absences and a connotation of never intending to return to duty. A similar infraction is missing a movement, which usually applies when a unit is deploying overseas, not just going for a hike.
Other uniquely military offenses include failure to obey a legal order or regulation, disrespect toward a superior commissioned officer, insubordination toward a noncommissioned officer (a senior enlisted person), improperly hazarding a vessel, drunk on duty, misbehavior of a sentinel (sentry), malingering and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, which also applies to female officers.
Unique military offenses also include mutiny or sedition, aiding the enemy, misbehavior before the enemy (running away) and misconduct as a prisoner (of war).
The UCMJ also has Article 134, which often is called the “general article.” It addresses issues that are fundamental to military service: “actions prejudicial to good order and discipline or which bring discredit on the armed forces.”
Punishment under the UCMJ also can have some distinctly military aspects, such as reduction in rank and separation from the service under other than honorable conditions – bad conduct or dishonorable discharge, which can affect eligibility for post-service benefits such as retired pay, medical care and preference for federal employment.
The UCMJ also covers most of the offenses that would warrant criminal charges in the civilian world, such as murder, and its lesser cases of manslaughter; assault, with various degrees; rape; robbery; burglary; forgery and perjury.
The offenses can bring familiar punishments such as incarceration and fines, and on conviction for murder or treason, the death penalty.