What Are The Most Common Military Disciplinary Actions?
July 28, 2021

What Are The Most Common Military Disciplinary Actions?

Commanders and supervisors are able to use a variety of administrative tools to assist with correcting unacceptable behavior. While they are delegated to the supervisory level, counselors, reprimands, and additional training, as well as the authority and status that they have from unit commanders, these tools can also be used for counseling, admonitions and reprimands.

Military Reprimands and Admonitions

These administrative actions are often called "nonpunitive" measures. Nonpunitive measures are encouraged, and to a certain extent, described in the Manual for Court Martial (R.C.M.). 306 (c), (2).

Corrective actions that may be taken include:

Counseling as a Military Discipline

Counseling can be either formal or informal, verbal or written. Many military personnel receive counseling at least once per day. However, enlisted soldiers tend to think of formal written counseling. This is usually used to notify about minor infractions and performance deficiencies. 

Although the impact of one counseling session may not seem significant, it is important to remember that counseling that documents inappropriate behavior can be used later, for example, to support an administrative demotion or separation or justification for lower performance evaluations.

Only the degree is what makes an admonition different from a reprimand. A reprimand can be more severe than an adjudication. Admonitions or reprimands, just like counseling, can be verbal and written.

Contrary to counseling, admonitions or reprimands can be censured. You can file reprimands and admonitions records to be used later to justify more severe measures such as nonjudicial punishment actions and administrative demotions and administrative separations.

You should be careful when responding to counseling, admonitions and reprimands in writing. Any response will become part of the written record. Reprimands, counseling, and admonitions can be refused to be signed.

Additional Military Instruction for the Military

Extra military instruction (EMI) is the practice of giving extra tasks to service members who are exhibiting performance or behavioral deficiencies. The purpose is to correct those deficiencies by performing the tasks assigned.

These tasks are usually performed in addition to regular duties. This type of leadership is more severe than nonpunitive, so the law places significant restrictions on the commander's ability to exercise discretion in this area.

The authority to assign EMI during work hours is not restricted to any rank or rate. It is an inherent part the authority vested into officers, NCOs (noncommissioned officers) and petty officers. Commanding officers or officers in charge have the authority to assign EMI after work hours. However, officers, petty and non-commissioned officers, may also do so.

Punitive Measures of Discipline in the Military

Three types of court-martial include punitive measures. The first two involve disincline but not dismissal. These first two types of Court-Martial are the most commonly used. They include varying degrees of pay grade and/or rank reduction.

Summary Court-Martial

A summary court-martial is an officer that may or not be a lawyer. (See MCM, Chapter XIII R.C.M. 1301-1306. The SCM deals with minor offenses and follows simple procedures. The maximum punishment is dependent on the rank of the accused and can be a one-month confinement, two-thirds of one month's pay forfeiture, or reduction in grade. (See MCM and R.C.M. 1301(d), for the list of punishable offenses. An SCM cannot try an accused against their will. You may ask the accused to object and consider a trial before a higher court martial. An accused cannot have access to military counsel at an SCM.

Special Court-Martial

A special court-martial (SPCM) is composed of a military judge, at most three court members (unless an accused prefers to be tried only by a military court judge), a trial counsel and a defense counsel. Maximum sentence includes confinement for six-month, forfeiture at least three court members (unless the accused chooses to be tried by a military judge alone), a trial counsel, and a reduction to the lowest rank of an enlisted soldier. 

See MCM, R.C.M. 201(f),(2)(B). A SPCM convening authority can authorize the SPCM's adjudgment of a bad conduct discharge (BCD), as part its maximum sentence. This is called a BCD SPCM. This proceeding is different from an ordinary SPCM because a verbatim reporter is required. A verbatim trial record of the trial is required if a BCD has been adjudged. The accused can also appeal to the Army Court of Military Review.

General Court-Martial

The most serious level of military courts is the general court-martial. It is composed of a military judge and trial counsel, defense counsel, as well as at least five other members. The court must have at least twelve members in capital cases. An enlisted suspect may request that a court be composed at least one third of enlisted personnel. 

A general court-martial will impose, at least, dismissal for officers.

It should be known disciplinary measures vary to some degree between the separate branches of the U.S. military. Because of these differences, it is critical to find an experienced military defense lawyer to advocate for you and explore your legal options.