The second largest United States Army base, Fort Bliss is spread across 1,700 square miles in both New Mexico and Texas. Founded in 1849, the fort was briefly held by the Confederacy during the Civil War. Today, it is home to several units including the 1st Armored Division.
Types of Military Justice at Fort Bliss
According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), there are two primary types of disciplinary proceeding you can face while stationed at Fort Bliss. They include nonjudicial punishment (NJP) and court-martial proceedings.
Nonjudicial Punishment, also referred to as Article 15 in the Army, is a form of administrative action that can be brought against you by your commanding officer. An NJP is not a formal criminal proceeding, and so if you receive an unfavorable result, it will not show up on your criminal record. But that doesn't mean the stakes aren't high; in some cases, an NJP can lead to your involuntary discharge from the Army.
It is good to know that you have the right to consult a civilian defense attorney before NJP proceedings, and it is a right you should exercise if you want full advice and counsel before deciding whether to accept nonjudicial punishment at an Article 15 or demand your right to trial by court-martial.
It is also important to note that you can reject an NJP in lieu of a formal court-martial hearing. This choice is a trade-off, as you have more rights at a court-martial, but you will also potentially face stiffer punishment if convicted. Before you make a decision regarding an NJP, you should always discuss your options with a military defense attorney, either at TDS, or a civilian attorney, or both.
If you accept an NJP, and the result is unfavorable, you are entitled to appeal the decision up the chain of command. The grounds for appeal include:
- an unjust outcome; or
- disproportionate punishment.
Unlike an NJP, a court-martial is a formal criminal proceeding. If you are found guilty, your conviction will be on your permanent record. While many minor violations of the UCMJ are brought in the form of NJP, any violation can lead to a court-martial, and sometimes it is in the best interest of the Soldier, NCO, or officer to demand the right to trial by court-martial.
If you are convicted at court-martial, you again have the right to appeal. At every point during that appellate process, you are entitled to a civilian defense attorney. There are two different appellate courts that hear Army courts-martial appeals:
- Army Court of Criminal Appeals; and
- Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Common Offenses at Fort Bliss
Many of the offenses that are commonly brought at Fort Bliss could qualify for a NJP or a court-martial. While any violation of the UCMJ can be brought as a court-martial, lesser offenses are typically addressed with NJP.
Common NJP Offenses
- Unauthorized absence (AWOL)
- Drunk on duty
- Violation of orders
- Destroying government property
Common Court-Martial Offenses
The penalties for either a NJP or a court-martial are serious. In either case, a conviction could lead to your removal from the Army through separation proceedings. The most common NJP penalties include restriction, loss of pay, extra duties, and loss of rank. A court-martial could result in the same penalties, but it can also carry more serious punishment, like incarceration or punitive discharge, but generally speaking, you have a much better chance at acquittal in a trial by court-martial.
You have a Right to a Civilian Defense Attorney
If you are facing a disciplinary proceeding at Fort Bliss, you are entitled to hire the attorney of your choice. For an attorney that focuses exclusively on military defense cases, contact retired Marine Corps judge and Fort Bliss military attorney Patrick McLain and attorney E. Allen Chandler today.