Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP) is known by different terms among the services, such as "Article 15," "Office Hours," or "Captain's Mast," but the purpose of NJP is to discipline servicemembers for minor offenses such as reporting late for duty, petty theft, destroying government property, sleeping on watch, providing false information, and disobeying standing orders.
Note: Determining if an offense is "minor" is a matter of discretion for the commander imposing punishment, but the imposition of punishment for an offense other than a minor offense does not rule out a court-marital for the same offense.
Although the actual punishments under an NJP offense are limited to confinement on diminished rations, restriction to certain specified limits, arrest in quarters, correctional custody, extra duties, forfeiture of pay, detention of pay and reduction in grade. The extent of these punishments depends on the grade of the officer imposing punishment, the grade of the accused, and whether the accused is attached to or embarked on a vessel.
Prior to the imposition of nonjudicial punishment, an accused is entitled to notification:
- that the imposition of nonjudicial punishment is being considered;
- a description of the alleged offenses;
- a summary of the evidence upon which the allegations are based;
- notification that the accused has the right to refuse the imposition of punishment;
- and any rights the accused has if NJP is accepted.
Except for individuals attached to or embarked on a vessel, servicemembers have the right to refuse the imposition of nonjudicial punishment. However refusal of NJP will normally not result in the dismissal of charges. A commanding officer can still refer the charges to court-martial.
An accused has the right to a personal appearance before the officer imposing punishment. During this appearance, the accused has the right against self-incrimination, the right to be accompanied by a spokesperson, the right to be informed of the evidence against him or her, the right to examine the evidence against him or her, the right to present matters on his or her own behalf, and to have the proceedings open to the public.
An accused may waive a personal appearance, if agreeable to the officer imposing punishment, and submit written matters for consideration by the imposition authority.
The Military Rules of Evidence, other than rules concerning privileges, do not apply to the imposition of nonjudicial punishment. The officer imposing punishment may consider all relevant matters so long as the accused has been given proper notice and the opportunity to respond. The officer must be convinced of the accused's guilt by a preponderance of the evidence.
The accused may appeal the imposition of nonjudicial punishment on the grounds that it is unjust or disproportionate to the offense. The appeal must be in writing and forwarded to the next superior authority via the officer who imposed punishment.
The appeal must be referred to a judge advocate (JAG) for consideration and advice before the authority who is to act on it may make any decision.