Facing charges of AWOL or Desertion | Law Offices of David P. Sheldon
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Facing charges of AWOL or Desertion

Failure to report for duty carries serious penalties for military personnel. This is a category that includes three related offenses: absence without leave (AWOL), desertion, and missing movement. While related, these offenses have different definitions and involve different penalties. This article will define these terms and the penalties military personnel face for these three offenses.

AWOL: Absence Without Leave

Military personnel who fail to go to an appointed place at a specific time are considered AWOL, as are those who go to an appointed place but leave without authorization and those who are absent from their units. The third category, those who are absent from their units, typically involves a military member who left his or her duty, unit, or organization without authority for at least a certain period of time. This third category encompasses two more serious offenses: Being absent from one's unit with the goal of missing maneuvers or field exercises and abandoning watch or guard.

The penalties for being AWOL range depending on the severity of the offense. In cases of being AWOL for less than three days, the penalties are confinement of up to one month and loss of two-thirds of one month's pay. Those who have been AWOL for 30 days or more can face dishonorable discharge, as well as complete forfeiture of pay and allowances and confinement for one year. However, the severity of the punishment is highly dependent upon the length of absence and the factual circumstances of the absence.

Military service personnel who are AWOL for 30 days are deemed to have deserted their posts.


While similar to AWOL in terms of both involving the failure to report for duty, desertion usually entails the military service member intending to leave his or her unit permanently and without authorization. Desertion can involve the intention to avoid a particular duty or service, often those considered hazardous and critically important. Desertion also applies in cases of a military service member who abandoned his or her duties before receiving notice of acceptance of resignation. It should be noted that attempted desertion can also be a crime if the attempt seemed deliberate and planned.

The punishment for desertion can be severe. It carries a maximum penalty of dishonorable discharge, complete forfeiture of pay and five years of confinement, while desertion during a time a war can carry with it the death penalty.

Missing Movement

Military personnel who are found to have intentionally missed their ship, aircraft or unit may face a missing movement charge. The key element in this is intentionality/negligence-that is whether the military member seems to have accidentally or purposefully failed to move with his or her aircraft carrier, ship or unit.

If it is deemed accidental, the military member would still be considered to be in violation of military law and could be issued a bad-conduct discharge, required to forfeit his or her pay and face confinement of one year. However, intentionally missing movement carries with it more severe penalties, including dishonorable discharge and confinement of two years. To be considered missing movement, the military member must have been aware of the expected movement of the ship, aircraft or unit, he or she must have actually missed the movement and have done so with intent or purposeful neglect. If circumstances outside one's control interfere and cause the missing movement, the military member likely will not be charged with the offense.

Often a misunderstanding

If you are facing charges, your military future is at stake. Make sure you have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side, protecting your rights from the initial investigation.

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