Military Law

The U.S. constitution vests the power of regulating the armed forces of the country with the U.S. Congress.  The U.S. military law was formulated in the 18th century and was followed with a few changes made, for more than a century.  Similarly, the 101 Articles of War enforced in 1806 saw hardly any changes for more than a hundred years.  It was only in 1951 the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) was passed.  This law provides for a uniformed military law irrespective of the divisions of the armed forces.

Provisions of U.S. Military Law

The military law of the United States has several provisions.  A few of them are discussed below:

Court Martial

The UCMJ and the Manual for Courts Martial sets the rules for court martial.  The person who referred the case is known as the convening authority.  If the court martial punishment is death, imprisonment for more than a year, a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge, or dismissal, an intermediate court will review the case.

Personal jurisdiction

Military law applies to the members of the following units belonging to the U.S. armed forces:

  • Army
  • Navy
  • Air Force
  • Coast guard (when it is part of the Navy)
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps
  • Public Health Service Commissioned Corps

Members of the last two divisions are considered as part of the armed forces only when they are part of a military unit.
Also, retired servicemen who are entitled to retirement pay also come under military law.

Non-judicial punishment

As per military law, for minor incidents of indiscipline, military commanders have the power of awarding non-judicial punishment.  The hearing of such a case need not be done in the presence of a judge or jury.  The punishment can be loss of pay, reduction in rank, imprisonment, reprimands etc.

Complaints of wrongs

The military law permits a member of the armed forces to file a complaint against his commanding officer with the military officer who has court martial authority over the commander.  This officer does investigations and reports the findings to the Secretary of the concerned division-Army, Navy or Air Force.


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