The Navy vessel exception to Article 15 non-judicial punishment (NJP) is outdated and needs to be removed. Whether you are familiar with NJP by the terms “captain’s mast,” “office hours,” “Article 15,” “NJP’d” or “ninja punched,” fundamental fairness demands the end to the vessel exception.
When Article 15 was first enacted by Congress in 1950, there was no right to turn down NJP and demand trial by court-martial. When Article 15 was amended in 1962, service members were granted the right to turn down NJP unless “attached to or embarked in a vessel;” this is what is known as the Navy’s “vessel exception.” The vessel exception was only intended to apply to military members aboard ship. This is clear by the advice from the assistant attorney general at the time, Norbert A. Schlei, to President Kennedy when he wrote the possibility that the vessel exception might be applied to persons “considerably removed from the vessel involved, and without regard to whether actual boarding of the vessel is planned for the immediate future … would appear to be inconsistent with the congressional intent.” In 1997, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) ruled that the vessel exception should be, “limited to situations such as where the service members were aboard a vessel, in the immediate vicinity and in the process of boarding, or attached to vessels and absent without authority in foreign ports.”
The reason the vessel exception was created was to ensure combat capability. The Manual for Courts-Martial defines “vessel” as capable as being used as a means of transportation on water. If a unit was underway in the 1960s, the readiness could not be compromised to coordinate the necessary logistics of a court-martial at sea to deal with minor misconduct. NJP is designed to be a swift and efficient way to resolve alleged minor misconduct and maintain good order and discipline. Even though your commanding officer (CO) ultimately determines what a minor offense is, minor offenses are generally considered offenses that can be dealt with at summary court-martial with a maximum confinement of 30 days, and not offenses that if tried by a general court-martial could be punished by a dishonorable discharge or confinement for more than one year. The CO is required to consider your evidence and endeavor to find the truth. Unfortunately, the reality is that most COs have made up their mind about your guilt or innocence before the captain’s mast begins. Nearly all sailors and Marines appearing at captain’s mast will be found guilty.
Read the full article on Military Times here: https://www.militarytimes.com/opinion/commentary/2020/10/22/end-the-navys-vessel-exception-give-sailors-and-marines-the-due-process-afforded-to-every-other-us-service-member/