On 30 June 1775, the Second Continental Congress established 69 Articles of War to govern the conduct of the Continental Army.
Effective upon its ratification in 1788, Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution provided that Congress has the power to regulate the land and naval forces. On 10 April 1806, the United States Congress enacted 101 Articles of War, which were not significantly revised until over a century later. Discipline in the sea services was provided under the Articles for the Government of the United States Navy (commonly referred to as Rocks and Shoals). While the Articles of War evolved during the first half of the twentieth century, being amended in 1916, 1920, and culminating with the substantial reforms in the 1948 version pursuant to the Selective Service Act of 1948 (a/k/a the Elston Act) (Pub.L. 80-759, 62 Stat. 604), its naval counterpart remained little changed by comparison. The military justice system continued to operate under the Articles of War and Articles for the Government of the Navy until 31 May 1951, when the Uniform Code of Military Justice went into effect.
The UCMJ was passed by Congress on 5 May 1950, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman the next day. It took effect on 31 May 1951. The word uniform in the Code's title refers to its consistent application to all the armed services in place of the earlier Articles of War, Articles of Government, and Disciplinary Laws of the individual services.
The UCMJ, the Rules for Courts-Martial (the military analogue to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure), and the Military Rules of Evidence (the analogue to the Federal Rules of Evidence) have evolved since their implementation, often paralleling the development of the federal civilian criminal justice system. In some ways, the UCMJ has been ahead of changes in the civilian criminal justice system. For example, a rights-warning statement similar to the Miranda warnings (and required in more contexts than in the civilian world where it is applicable only to custodial interrogation) was required by Art. 31 (10 U.S.C. § 831) a decade and a half before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miranda v. Arizona; Article 38(b) (10 U.S.C. § 838(b)) continued the 1948 Articles of War guarantee that qualified defense counsel be provided to all accused without regard to indigence (and at earlier stages than required in civilian jurisdictions), whereas the U.S. Supreme Court only guaranteed the provision of counsel to indigents in Gideon v. Wainwright. Additionally, the role of what was originally a court-martial's non-voting "law member" developed into the present office of military judge whose capacity is little different from that of an Article III judge in a
Courts-martial are conducted under the UCMJ and the Manual for Courts-Martial United States. If the trial results in a conviction, the case is reviewed by the convening authority – the commanding officer who referred the case for trial by court-martial. The convening authority has discretion to mitigate the findings and sentence, set aside convictions, and/or to remand convictions and/or sentences back to a court-martial for re-hearing.
If the sentence, as approved by the convening authority, includes death, a bad conduct discharge, a dishonorable discharge, dismissal of an officer, or confinement for one year or more, the case is reviewed by an intermediate court. There are four such courts – the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals.
After review by any of these intermediate courts, the next level of appeal is the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF). The Supreme Court of the
Within the exceptions below, as codified in Article 2 of the UCMJ, personal jurisdiction attaches, regardless of the physical global location of the servicemember, over all members of the uniformed services of the
Members of the military Reserve Components under Title 10 of the United States Code (Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Forces Reserve, and Air Force Reserve), or Title 14 of the United States Code, Coast Guard Reserve when not operating as part of the U.S. Navy, are subject to the UCMJ if they are:
- Full-Time Support (FTS) personnel on active duty orders serving pursuant to the authority of 10 USC 10211 or 10 USC 12310, including:
- Army/Air Force "Active Guard and Reserve (AGR),"
- Navy "Full-time Support (FTS),"
- Marine Corps "Active Reserve (AR)," or
- Coast Guard "Reserve Program Administrators (RPA)."
- "Traditional" reservists performing either:
- Full-time active duty service under orders for a specific period, i.e., Annual Training, Active Duty for Training, Active Duty for Operational Support, Active Duty Special Work, Mobilization or Recall to Active Duty, Canvasser Recruiter, etc., or
- Performing part-time Inactive Duty, i.e., Inactive Duty Training, Inactive Duty Travel and Training, Unit Training Assembly, Additional Training Periods, Additional Flying Training Periods, Reserve Management Periods, etc., all of which are colloquially known as "drills."
- Retired Reservists who are either recalled to active duty pursuant to Secretarial authority, or who are receiving medical treatment in an Armed Forces hospital (see below).
Soldiers and airmen in the National Guard of the United States are subject to the UCMJ only if activated (mobilized or recalled to active duty) in a Federal capacity under Title 10 by an executive order issued by the President, or during their Annual Training periods, which are orders issued under Title 10, during which periods of duty they are federalized into the National Guard of the United States. Otherwise, members of the National Guard are usually exempt from the UCMJ. However, under Title 32 orders, individual members of the Army National Guard and Air Force National Guard are still subject to their respective State codes of Military Justice, which often resemble the UCMJ very closely, and/or their State civil and criminal laws.
Several States also authorize either naval or military organized militia forces. These are collectively known as the State Guard. State Guard organizations are organized, trained, equipped, armed, disciplined, and administered under each State's own sovereign authority, and are not subject to a Federal recall to active duty, nor are the individual members subject to the UCMJ in their capacities as members of the State Guard. State Guard organizations typically are organized similarly to a military force, and usually report to the senior National Guard officer in each State, known as the Adjutant General. In this sense, the State Guard are auxiliaries to each State's Constitutionally authorized organized militia forces, the Army and Air Force National Guard. The State Guard is often specialized, based on each State's requirements, for missions such as wilderness search and rescue, light aviation, forest firefighting, law enforcement, or general emergency management roles. Under each State's own authorities, State Guard members may be ordered to State Active Duty (SAD), in a status similar to National Guard members in a Title 32 status but solely under State authority and discipline, and also may be provided with the training, equipment, and authority to act as law enforcement officers with powers of arrest. Each State sets the requirements to join, remain, be promoted or rewarded, and conditions of employment such as a minimum amount of duty performed in a year, and whether any duty is paid or nonpaid, and whether the individuals are covered by various civil service or retirement pension plans. Most State Guard duty is performed without pay, in a volunteer status. While the State Guard organizations are subject to recall to SAD, or other workforce requirements as imposed by their State, they are not subject to either partial or full mobilization authorities under Title 10. However, the individual State Guard members often have dual-status as both State Guard and a Federally recognized uniformed services member, such as a Texas State Guard officer who is also a retired
Cadets and midshipmen at the United States Military Academy, United States Naval Academy, United States Air Force Academy, United States Merchant Marine Academy, and United States Coast Guard Academy are subject to the UCMJ at all times because they are in an active duty status while at a Military Service Academy. Also, Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) cadets and midshipmen, as members of the reserve components, are subject to the UCMJ while on inactive or active duty training.
Members of military auxiliaries such as the Civil Air Patrol and the Coast Guard Auxiliary are not subject to the UCMJ, even when participating in missions assigned by the military or other branches of government. However, members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary can be called by the Commandant of the Coast Guard into the Temporary Reserve, in which case they become subject to the UCMJ.
Additionally, the following categories of service members are subject to the UCMJ as indicated:
- Retired members of the Regular Component who are entitled to retirement pay, per Article 2(a)(4), regardless of the authority under which retired from active service and transferred to the Retired List of their respective Service's Regular Component,
- Retired members of the Reserve Component, whether entitled to retired pay or awaiting retired pay at age 60 as a Grey Area reserve retiree, who are receiving hospital care from an Armed Force, UCMJ, Article 2(a)(5)],
- Members of the Fleet Reserve/Fleet Marine Corps Reserve (FR/FMCR), as enlisted retired Navy or Marine Corps personnel who have not served a total of 30 years of combined active, reserve, and retired service. Both Regular Component and Reserve Component enlisted retirees are transferred to the FR/FMCR upon retirement if they have less than 30 total years, and remain subject to the UCMJ in that status until they complete 30 total years and are transferred to their respective original Service Retired List (Regular Component or Retired Component). The FR/FMCR is not applicable to officers, any service member retired for disability and transferred to the Temporary or Permanent Disability Retired Lists, nor any enlisted retirees except those of the Navy and Marine Corps as noted above.
- Prisoners of War (POW)/Enemy Prisoners of War (EPW) in the custody of the U.S. Armed Forces,
- Detained medical personnel and military chaplains in the custody of the U.S. Armed Forces, and
- Persons in custody of the U.S. Armed Forces serving a sentence imposed by a court-martial.
Under Article 15 of the Code (Subchapter III), military commanders have the authority to exercise non-judicial punishment (NJP) over their subordinates for minor breaches of discipline. These punishments are carried out after a hearing before the commander, but without a judge or jury. Punishments are limited to reduction in rank, loss of pay, restrictions of privileges, extra-duty, reprimands, and, aboard ships, confinement. Guidelines for the imposition of NJP are contained in Part V of the Manual for Courts-Martial United States and the various service regulations.