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Military law refers to the legislation administered by the military courts for the discipline of our military personnel. If you are a member of the military, you should always be aware of your special rights and responsibilities under the law.

A Basic Overview of Military Law

The military legal system is primarily based upon the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which applies to all branches of the military, including the Coast Guard. Whether you are an active duty, reserve and guard service member, or a military retiree, you are subject to the UCMJ. Issues covered in the UCMJ include bringing cases to military courts, the release and revision of military records, and post-trial review procedures and appeals.


Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress the power to make rules for the regulation of our land and naval forces. While our military personnel are afforded most civilian Constitutional rights, some adjustments have been established in order to make these rights applicable to the military situation.

Another way in which military law differentiates itself from other forms of law is by having its own unique vocabulary. For instance, in court proceedings, the defendant is referred to as “the accused,” while the prosecutor is referred to as “trial counsel.” A “BCD” stands for Bad Conduct Discharge, the second worst type of punitive discharge, while “DD” is short for Dishonorable Discharge, the absolute worst type of discharge one can receive. “Article 15” refers to a non-judicial punishment or “NJP” ordered by a commanding officer, while “Article 32” refers to the formal investigation that is required before a case may be turned over to a general court martial. A “General Court Martial” or “GCM” is the most serious kind of court martial who can award any authorized punishment, including death in capital cases.

Frequently Asked Questions About Military Law

- Is a person facing a court martial entitled to retain civilian counsel?

Yes. While all military defendants are entitled to free representation by military defense counsel, the accused are also allowed to retain a civilian lawyer who practices military law to represent them at their own expense.

- Do members of the military enjoy the right to free speech?

While article 88 of the UCMJ, 10 U.S.C. 888 does make it a crime for a military officer to use contemptuous words against the President, Congress, etc., no one in recent history has been prosecuted for using contemptuous language.

- Can a soldier be ordered to take a drug test?

Yes. The military retains the right to require its members to provide urine samples for random drug testing in order to help prevent drug use.

- Is off-base conduct still covered by military law?

Yes. The UCMJ applies to all members of the military, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, no matter where they happen to be.

By Lindsay Rech           


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