Punitive Articles of the UCMJ

An Overview of UCMJ Articles 77-134

Image shows a gavel next to a book labeled "manual for court-martial united states." Text reads: "Punitive article examples from the uniform code of military justice: Article 86 - absence without leave (AWOL); article 104 - aiding the enemy; article 112 - drunk on duty; article 133 - conduct unbecoming an officer and gentlement; article 134-11 - debt, dishonorably failing to pay"

Image by Elise Degarmo © The Balance 2019

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is the bedrock of military law. The UCMJ is a federal law enacted by Congress. Articles 77 through 134 of the UCMJ are known as the punitive articles. These are specific offenses that, if violated, can result in punishment by court-martial. 

The UCMJ and the Manual for Court Martial (MCM)

The law requires the Commander-in-Chief (The President of the United States) to implement the provisions of the UCMJ. The President does this via an executive order known as the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM), which is reviewed annually. Chapter 4 of the MCM includes and expands on the punitive articles.

Service members with court-martial convening authority can mete out appropriate punishments between the maximum and minimum for the article the accused is found guilty of violating.

Within Chapter 4 of the MCM are:

  • The article's text: Exact text of the article, as Congress approved it in the UCMJ.
  • Elements: Specifics of actions that are covered by the article
  • Explanation: The explanation defines terms and clarifies the elements based on previous court decisions.
  • Lesser included offenses: Lesser offenses that a military court may still find an accused guilty of.
  • Maximum permissible punishments: The maximum punishment allowed.

Who Is Subject to the UCMJ?

Articles 2 and 3 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) outline who is subject to the code and all of its regulations, including the punitive articles (Articles 77–134):

  • Members of a regular component of the armed forces
  • Cadets and midshipmen
  • Reserve component and National Guard members when traveling to duty or between training periods on the same day or consecutive days.

Each of the UCMJ's punitive articles is listed below, with a brief description of the offense the article covers.

Articles 77-89

Article 77—Principals by association. The article does not define an offense. Its purpose is to clarify that a person needs not personally perform the acts necessary to constitute an offense to be guilty of it.

Article 78—Accessory after the fact

Article 79—Conviction of lesser included offenses

Article 80—Attempts

Article 81—Conspiracy

Article 82—Solicitation

Article 83—Fraudulent enlistment, appointment, or separation

Article 84—Effecting unlawful enlistment, appointment, or separation

The last update to the UCMJ went into effect on January 1, 2019. The changes are based on the Military Justice Act of 2016, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2016.

Article 85—Desertion

Article 86—Absence without leave (AWOL)

Article 87—Missing movement

Article 88—Contempt toward officials

Article 89Disrespect toward a superior commissioned officer

Articles 90-109

Article 90—Assaulting or willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer

Article 91Insubordinate conduct toward warrant officer, non-commissioned officer, or petty officer

Article 92—Failure to obey order or regulation

Article 93—Cruelty and maltreatment

Article 94—Mutiny and sedition

Article 95—Resistance, flight, breach of arrest, and escape

Article 96—Releasing a prisoner without proper authority

Article 97—Unlawful detention

Article 98—Noncompliance with procedural rules

Article 99—Misbehavior before the enemy

The Manual for Courts-Martial not only lists the offenses and punishments, it provides step-by-step instructions for everything from who can apprehend a subject to conducting proceedings.

Article 100—Subordinate compelling surrender

Article 101—Improper use of countersign

Article 102—Forcing a safeguard

Article 103—Captured or abandoned property

Article 104—Aiding the enemy

Article 105—Misconduct as a prisoner

Article 106/a—Spies / Espionage

Article 107—False official statements

Article 108—Military property of the United States—sale, loss, damage, destruction, or wrongful disposition

Article 109—Property other than military property of the United States—waste, spoilage, or destruction

Article 110-129

Article 110—Improper hazarding of a vessel

Article 111—Drunken or reckless operation of vehicle, aircraft, or vessel

It's important to note that service members can be prosecuted for a crime under civilian law if they commit a crime off-base. In general, they cannot be charged by military authorities for the same offenses.

Article 112—Drunk on duty

Article 112a—Wrongful use, possession, etc., of controlled substances

Article 113—Misbehavior of sentinel or lookout

Article 114—Endangerment Offenses

Article 115—Malingering

Article 116—Riot or breach of peace

Article 117—Provoking speeches or gestures

Article 118—Murder

Article 119—Manslaughter

Article 120—Rape and carnal knowledge 

Article 120—Rape, sexual assault, and other sexual misconduct.

Article 114 used to be entitled "Dueling" and covered the act or intent of using deadly weapons to settle a dispute. The new title "Endangerment Offenses" still covers this antiquated dispute settlement method but is more aligned to the act of fighting, promoting or challenging another service member to a fight.

Article 120a—Stalking

Article 121Larceny and wrongful appropriation

Article 122—Robbery

Article 123—Forgery

Article 123a—Making, drawing, or uttering check, draft, or order without sufficient funds

Article 124—Maiming

Article 125—Sodomy

Article 126—Arson

Article 127—Extortion

Article 128—Assault

Article 129—Burglary

Articles 130-133

Article 130—Housebreaking

Article 131—Perjury

Article 132—Frauds against the United States

Article 133Conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman

Article 134

Article 134 gives the military the ability to punish conduct that is not explicitly listed in the UCMJ, as long as it is not a capital offense—

Though not specifically mentioned in this chapter, all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and crimes and offenses not capital, of which persons subject to this chapter may be guilty, shall be taken cognizance of by a general, special, or summary court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense, and shall be punished at the discretion of that court.

The general article also lists 55 other specific actions that are punishable by a court-martial. Here are a few of the more common offenses:

  • Adultery
  • Assault with intent to commit murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, robbery, sodomy, arson, burglary, or housebreaking
  • Check, worthless, making, and uttering by dishonorably failing to maintain funds.
  • Disorderly conduct and drunkenness
  • Drunkenness and other incapacitating offenses
  • False pretenses, obtaining services under
  • Discharging a firearm through negligence
  • Fraternization
  • Homicide, negligent
  • Jumping from a vessel into the water
  • Restriction, breaking
  • Stolen property: knowingly receiving, buying, concealing