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Punishment for Going AWOL

Posted by Ernesto Gapasin | May 23, 2016 | 0 Comments

Failing to show up for work is never a good idea, whether you're a teacher, a nurse, a pilot, or an army private. In the military, it is actually a crime. Defined in Article 86 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), unauthorized absence (UA) or absence without leave (AWOL) is a very common offense in the military. The circumstances surrounding the absence can have a significant impact on the accused's punishment for going AWOL.

Punishment for Going AWOL

Before we dig into the punishment for going AWOL, let's review the exact nature of the crime, as defined in UCMJ Article 86:

Any member of the armed forces who, without authority (1) fails to go to his appointed place of duty at the time prescribed; (2) goes from that place; or (3) absents himself or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty at which he is required to be at the time prescribed; shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

As we mentioned above, the circumstances surrounding the AWOL offense can exacerbate its severity and increase the likelihood of a strong punishment. For example, the following factors can aggravate the crime:

  • Remaining absent for a long period of time
  • Abandoning watch or guard
  • Being absent to avoid maneuvers or field exercises
  • Being absent to avoid deployment (Article 87, Missing Movement, also applies)
  • Having the absence terminated through apprehension by law enforcement
  • Destroying or discarding his or her uniforms or ID card

If the military member returns quickly and voluntarily following the absence, the punishment for going AWOL will likely not be as severe.

The most severe type of AWOL is desertion, which is defined under Article 85 of the UCMJ as absence with the intent to remain absent permanently. It also applies to those who go absent to “avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service.” For a full definition of desertion, please review Article 85 of the UCMJ.

Many AWOL cases are settled administratively, but others are resolved through a court-martial. It is extremely unlikely that the accused will be tried by general court-martial, the highest level of the military court system, and receive the maximum possible punishment. However, knowing the maximum sentence can help you understand what you're facing as you head to a court-martial. The following are the maximum possible punishments for going AWOL, divided by the circumstances of the offense:

Maximum Possible Punishments

  • AWOL, Failing to Go to the Appointed Place: Confinement for 1 month, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for 1 month.
  • AWOL, Abandoning Guard or Watch Duty Without Intent to Abandon the Post: Confinement for 3 months, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for 3 months.
  • AWOL, Abandoning Guard or Watch Duty With Intent to Abandon the Post: Bad conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 6 months.
  • AWOL, Absent for 3 Days or Less: Confinement for 1 month, reduction the lowest grade, and forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for 1 month.
  • AWOL, Absent for More Than 3 Days, Less Than 30 Days: Confinement for 6 months, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for 6 months.
  • AWOL, Absent for More Than 30 Days: Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 1 year.
  • AWOL, Absent for More Than 30 Days and Absence Terminated by Apprehension: Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 18 months.
  • AWOL to Avoid Field Exercises or Maneuvers: Bad conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 6 months.
  • Missing Movement on Purpose: Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 2 years.
  • Missing Movement Through Neglect: Bad conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and confinement for 1 year.

NOTE: The most serious absentee offense, desertion, features more significant maximum possible punishments. Review this previous blog post to learn more.

If you or someone you know is preparing for a court-martial (whether for going AWOL or not), contact the top-quality lawyers at Newsom & Gapasin. Whether you're under investigation, facing a court-martial, or seeking an appeal, our experienced and aggressive law firm would be happy to help. We focus on winning tough cases, some of which have been reported on by national media outlets like CNN, Fox News, Time, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. For more information, please give us a call at 1-(888) 919-8265 , send an e-mail to [email protected], or click here to contact us online. We look forward to hearing from you!

About the Author

Ernesto Gapasin

Attorney

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