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Uniform Code of Military Justice: unique aspect of American law

Military and civilian environments are simply different in many respects. This difference has long been noted by American lawmakers and expressly referenced in the United States Constitution, the country's foremost legal document.

The Constitution expressly grants Congress the prerogative to make rules governing "the land and naval Forces" of the country.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice is the embodiment of that grant. That statutory enactment setting forth standardized laws and procedures for governing members of all branches of the country's military took effect in 1951.

As noted by an encyclopedia on American law, the UCMJ had an immediate and material effect on military law and justice. The code foremost provides accused servicemenbers with a right to legal representation. Under the UCMJ, both military attorneys and civilian lawyers can represent military defendants and other members of the armed forces facing disciplinary proceedings.

Other important rights are also extended under the UCMJ to accused parties. They centrally include the right to remain silent in the face of questioning and investigative challenges, along with the right to be informed of any accusation against them.

The UCMJ's scope regarding crime is broad indeed, encompassing criminal accusations ranging from murder and sexual offenses to military-specific crimes like absence without leave and failure to obey an order.

As far as punishment is concerned, the Uniform Code of Military Justice is truly comprehensive. There are several types of court-martial, differentiated by the severity of outcomes that can result, with the UCMJ additionally providing for so-called nonjudicial punishment (please see our July 22 blog post for a discussion of this latter type of proceeding and punishment).

The courts-martial system is certainly worthy of an extended discussion, and we will visit the topic in some detail in an upcoming blog post.

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