The importance of seeking counsel prior to accepting nonjudicial punishment

The importance of seeking counsel prior to accepting nonjudicial punishment

A recent article in the Navy Times provides an important reminder of how important it is to seek counsel before accepting or refusing nonjudicial punishment.

The Navy Times reports that in San Diego 31 corpsman were taken to Captain's Mast for allegedly cheating at the Surface Warfare Medical Unit. As noted in the article, they weren't provided legal counsel and had less than 24 hours to decide whether to refuse NJP.

To be blunt, the Navy has historically been the worst abuser of individual rights of all of the services.

We've learned that nearly all of the Sailors have been recommended for administrative separation. Several of the Sailors turned down nonjudicial punishment. The Sailors that refused nonjudicial punishment are facing the administrative separation with the following advantages:

1) They did not plead guilty at NJP; and,
2) They were not punished and retain their rank and pay.

Those are huge advantages at an administrative separation board.

In a case with 31 co-accused, the decision to turn down NJP is actually fairly simple. Often refusing NJP boils down to a gamble. It can be a bet that the command will not refer the case to a Special Court-Martial. You are almost always better off at administrative separation without an NJP than with an NJP.

With 31 co-accused, there are so many conflicts and potential problems with referring the case to a court-martial, that it's a safe bet that the command will not refer the case to a court-martial if you refuse NJP. In that situation, your worst case scenario is probably an administrative separation board.

The difficulty in these decisions occurs when there is an indication that if you accept the NJP they will not send you to an admin separation board. But, if you already know that you are going to an administrative separation board, the decision to turn down NJP is much easier.

The bottom line is that consultations with counsel are extremely valuable in NJP cases.