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Is off-base conduct covered by military law?

UPDATED: December 18, 2019

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The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) specifically requires active duty personnel to follow all applicable rules of military conduct, whether on or off duty, or on or off base. Furlough, a temporary leave of absence from the military, does not change this rule.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice and Off-Base Conduct

The UCMJ is federal law and as such, is not enforced by civilian law enforcement. The UCMJ is instead enforced by federal officers and federal military courts. This has practical implications for enforcement, especially because local law enforcement may not be aware of certain proscriptions on military life. Further, local police have no direct legal authority for enforcing breaches of the UCMJ.

Many crimes under the UCMJ such as murder, rape or robbery, are defined the same way as they are in a civilian court. If a solider commits a crime off-base, and is caught by local law enforcement, the solider will still be under the jurisdiction of the UCMJ. The soldier will be tried for their crime in the military courts.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice and Local Law Enforcement

The military justice system also enforces crimes under the UCMJ that are outside the realm of the civilian courts. However, this does not mean that local law enforcement is required to enforce these UCMJ provisions when a soldier is off-base. For example, the UCMJ prohibits certain adulterous conduct by active military members. This means that if an active military member is caught engaging in adulterous conduct, even if they are off-base, they may be still be subject to military law.

If an off-base soldier engages in adulterous conduct, local law enforcement does not have the responsibility of charging the solider with the breach of the UCMJ. Law enforcement may inform the military that the off-base solider breached the UCMJ, however, they are not obligated to. Further, civilian agencies may have jurisdiction over some off-base conduct that they are not required to inform the military of. Domestic violence incidents are an example of this type of conduct.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice and Conduct Overseas

The UCMJ is also enforced on off-duty soldiers overseas. However, military law enforcement agreements are negotiated between the base and the host nation, and therefore vary. These agreements are designed to keep jurisdiction for off-base infractions within Department of Defense jurisdiction.

Consulting a Military Justice Attorney

If you have been charged with a breach of the UCMJ, or have other specific questions about military law, contact an experienced military justice attorney. While there are many similarities between the civilian justice system, and the military justice system, the differences are just as great. A knowledgeable military justice attorney will be able to inform you of your rights under the UCMJ. 

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