Sources of Military Law

Unfortunately, actually nailing down military law can be difficult.  There are many sources of military law.  They are, generally, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the Rules for Courts-Martial (RCM), the Manual For Courts-Martial (MCM), the Military Rules of Evidence (MRE), regulations issued by military departments and commanders, and, finally, case law established by written opinions of military appellate courts.

The UCMJ is actually federal law enacted by the Congress and signed into law by the President.  Though we (in the military) refer to the provisions of the UCMJ as Article 120, 121, 128 and so forth, the actual citations are 10 U.S.C. §§ 920, 921, 928 and so forth.  In the United States Code, the UCMJ starts at 10 U.S.C. § 800 – so to get the actually cite of the Article, you simply add 800.  Thus, Article 15, UCMJ is actually 10 U.S.C. § 815.

On the other hand, the RCM are akin to rules of criminal procedure and are implemented by the President under his rule-making authority.  The President also impacts military law in other ways – by drafting the elements of offenses under the UCMJ and proposing model charges; by establishing maximum punishments for offenses for which Congress has not done so (stating only, “shall be punished as the court-martial may direct”); by making any changes or amendments to the MRE.

The MCM is a great source of military law.  The current published version is the 2016 Manual.  It contains the UCMJ, the RCM, the MRE, Part IV – Punitive Articles of the UCMJ, Part V – Nonjudicial Punishment, sample forms and scripts for courts, and analyses of the RCM, MRE, and UCMJ.  The downside of the MCM is that it, in recent editions, has become outdated very quickly as the Congress enacts new statutes and President modifies the rules.

Case law is law that is established by the courts through written decisions (called “published opinions”).  While courts are not allowed to create new law, they are called upon to interpret and apply the statutes, rules, and regulations.  The military appellate courts include: Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals (NMCCA); Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals (CGCCA); Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals (AFCCA); Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA); and, Court of Appeals for Armed Forces (CAAF).

The Military Judge’s Benchbook is another great resource for military law, especially UCMJ offenses and punishments.  It is updated more regularly than the MCM by the Army trial judiciary.  It is the guide that military judge’s use during courts to instruct the jury.

Attorney Patrick Korody is a former active duty Navy JAG who specializes in military law matters.  He represents clients across all services at bases around the world.  He offers a free consultation by telephone, email, or in person at his offices in Jacksonville, FL.

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