The Military Justice Act of 2016, or MJA 16, was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2017. MJA 16 is designed to improve the military justice system by enhancing efficiency and effectiveness while sustaining good order and discipline. It includes the most sweeping changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice in over 60 years and became effective Jan. 1. Although the reforms are extensive, the commander, advised by judge advocates, remains responsible for military justice.
Some of the major changes to the military justice system include:
• Expansion of victims’ rights. Broadens protections to victims of all crimes. Provides for increased opportunities to be heard and to submit matters throughout the court-martial process.
• Expanded court-martial authorities. Military judges may now issue warrants and orders for electronic communications. Judges and trial counsel may now issue subpoenas at an earlier stage in the investigative process.
• Special court-martial bench trial. Creates a new military judge alone special court-martial where the maximum punishment is reduction to E1, forfeiture of 2/3d pay for up to six months, and six months confinement. No discharge is authorized.
• Expanded plea agreements. Plea agreements may now contain a minimum and a maximum sentence. The plea agreement is binding on the court-martial once accepted.
• New punitive articles. There are new punitive articles specifically criminalizing: sexual relationships between specially protected junior members of the military and people in positions of special trust, wrongful access of information on government computers, and retaliation against Soldiers for reporting crimes or other wrongs.
The Army has spent over a year training judge advocates, law enforcement personnel and Army leaders on the changes to the UCMJ, as well as working with the sister services to ensure proper implementation of the new changes to the UCMJ. MJA 16 is in effect now.
The Army will continue to educate commands on the new policies and procedures. Individuals who have questions about changes to the UCMJ should contact their local staff judge advocate or legal advisor.
Why is this important to the Army?
The improvements balance the interests of due process, efficiency and effectiveness of the system while providing robust options for commanders who need military justice tools to enforce military discipline.