Obama-Era Law Brings Big Changes to UCMJ

The US military is ringing in the New Year with some big changes to the UCMJ and Manual for Courts-Martial. ??Air Force photo by A1C Nicolas Erwin.

As the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, the Military Justice Act of 2016 went into effect, bringing major changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Manual for Courts-Martial.

“The Military Justice Act represents the most significant change to the military justice system since the Military Justice Act of 1983,” said Lt. Gen. Jeff Rockwell, USAF judge advocate general, in a Jan. 2 release.

The law’s reforms include, but are not limited to, criminalizing “sexual activity between” recruits or trainees and people in trusted positions (defined as officers, noncommissioned officers, recruiters, or instructors), retaliatory behavior against individuals who report or plan to blow the whistle on illegal activity, and credit- and debit-card fraud, the release said.

USAF says the law’s changes also include:

  • More opportunities for convicted service members to file appeals
  • Automatically sending courts-martial that result in death sentences, dishonorable discharges, “or confinement of two years or more” to the Service Court of Criminal Appeals for review
  • In some cases, giving accused service members the chance to have a solo judge handle their courts-martial instead of a panel
  • Establishing fixed panel sizes for different types of courts-martial
  • Requiring a 3/4 vote to convict a service member of a non-capital crime
  • Renumbering multiple punitive articles within the code so that similar offenses are grouped together

The law also increases transparency within the military justice system by mandating that “most court-martial documents” be placed in the public domain, the release said.

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, in 2013 called for “a systemic review” of both the code and the Manual for Courts-Martial “to ensure military laws and regulations” reflected the current environment, according to the release. It was passed and signed into law under the Obama administration in 2016.

To learn about more of the law’s reforms, check out the USAF infographic here.